My wife, adult daughter and I traveled from Cape Liberty on the August 28th sailing of the Explorer of the Seas on a nine day Canadian trip. Ports of call included Sydney, NS, Charlottetown, PEI, Quebec City and Halifax, NS.
Checking in at Cape Liberty was relatively fast and easy. The bags get dropped near the terminal and while my wife and daughter waited for me to return; I parked the car within walking distance of the terminal. There are a large number of handicap parking spaces in the parking area, but the $16 per day charge applied to all.
As Diamond members there was a separate line and we were through with the formalities and on the shuttle to the ship within 20 minutes of arrival at the terminal.
To sum up the overall experiences-
Both the balcony that my wife and I occupied and the interior single that my daughter had were clean, everything worked well and the attendants were professional, competent and unobtrusive. As a matter of fact it took us a couple of hours to track our attendant down. No complaints whatever about this end of the operation.
The rest of the ship was also clean and looked well maintained in spite of its age. All of the public areas were constantly looked after and it was not unusual to see the staff hard at work. One complaint, for this cruise only, was that the golf and the in-line skating areas were closed for maintenance. We do not in-line skate, but missed the mini-golf course as we have found this a pleasant way for a family to spend some relaxing time together, particularly when the sun is not strong enough to make the pool a draw.
The entertainment was fine, particularly the individual performers. Don't miss the Ice Show. The "Broadway" type shows were the same as we had seen on the cruise a year ago, but raise in my mind the question of why almost all of the music seems to be almost as old as I am. All the shows in the theater seem to avoid anything that was written after 1969. I'm not a real fan of hip hop, or some of the other current tunes, but I think there are many of them that would be appreciated by large segments of the guests.
We do not gamble or shop on board. There seemed to be a large selection of items for sail, but, I just don't really understand the attraction of walking around with a sign on my back that says "RCI". I am already identifiable as a tourist without that kind of addition.
Loved the ports. The residents of the towns visited seemed really happy to see us, help us out, and although interested in our contributions to the local economy, not interested in gouging. In contrast to the Caribbean where every port seems to have the same things differing only in the name sewn on to it, the crafts and art displayed has attractiveness and value.
Now the downside.
It seems to me that the cruise lines are beginning to model themselves on the airline industry as far as pricing is concerned. They are low balling the initial price to get you on board and they trying to make up the difference and a profit on what they can induce you to buy while aboard.
We have long since given up taking a ship sponsored excursion. The prices are too high for what is offered and as most Cruise Critic members know, you can do much better with a little preparation before hand.
Other areas of this nature include the Ben and Jerry's ice cream and Seattle's Best Coffee. The one that I really find fascinating is the cost of a soda card. At $6 per day, unlimited soda for the cruise would have been $54. In my area a two liter bottle of soda retails for $.79 and it is tough to drink two liters a day. Nice profit for someone. Also love the fact that the cruise line buys it's alcohol in bulk, dilutes it with water, soda or juice and then sells it for $8.75 plus tip per drink.
The area of food was the biggest disappointment to us. In addition to cutting down on the kinds of juice available for breakfast. I like pineapple and for the first time ever, it was not on any menu. They have begun to produce lunch and dinner menus which have the same choices almost every night, disguised, or attempted to be disguised by a change in sauce. For example, every dinner menu during the cruise started with two pasta dishes. The first on the menu was with one kind of sauce, the second with a different kind of sauce. Things which used to be on the available-every-night portion of the menu are now featured items, i.e., a chicken breast, or standard cut of steak. They have even forgone the traditional Baked Alaska, although the lobster tail was served one night. I wonder where all the claws go?
The trend that I find most confusing is the specialty restaurants on board. On the Explorer there is a $20 per cover charge to eat at Portofino's. The two things that annoy me are first, the advertising of this facility is a not too subtle way of telling me that the food and service in the main dining room is second class. Which unfortunately it is.
The other thing is as follows. Portofino's seats about 50 people and charges $20. This means that the company grosses about $1,000 per day. I don't know what the net is but it has to be less. For this amount of money, the space that Portofino's takes up is not usable for any other activity or profit center. As a manager this seems to be poor management. If they are indeed trying to maximize profit, surely there are better ways to do this than have space devoted to a low profit activity which also send the message that the main restaurant is second class.
Debarkation was the usual hurry up out of the staterooms and wait. Although we have enjoyed many RCI cruises in the past, we did not like the crowds on the Explorer. Some activities are scheduled so that the full complement of passengers attends all at once. You and 3,500 of your best friends. In the future we will find smaller ships. We may have to forgo rock wall climbing, but at 66 year old, I think I can accept the loss.