We booked this trip through our local travel agent in Phoenix. It was our 7th cruise and our second with RCCL. Normally, we book cruises ourselves, on-line, but this was to celebrate my wife's birthday and we planned to spend a few nights in New York prior to boarding and felt it would be simpler to let a travel agent tie everything together. While it all worked out fine, I have to say it is easier to "do it yourself" online. Plus, you feel like you are in control.
We took a hired car from the Dream Hotel at 55th and Broadway in Manhattan to the Cape Liberty Pier. It was a fixed rate, got us there in plenty of time, and cost about $65. We arrived at 11:15 AM. Our luggage was promptly taken from us by a very helpful gentleman - I tipped him ten bucks for 3 pieces of luggage.
We were directed into the terminal where there was absolutely no line to check in, get our Sea Passes, and wait until boarding began at 1 PM. We made our way onboard very easily and went directly to Deck 5, where I was anxious to see the Royal Promenade. It is by far my favorite part of the ship.
We had some concerns about dining, as we typically prefer the early seating, but were assigned the late seating. And for us, 8:30 is a very late seating. So we left the Promenade and went directly to Deck 4 to see if the Head Waiter could accommodate us, which he happily and quickly did. He assigned us a wonderful table for two for the early seating. Couldn't have been easier.
We then went to the Windjammer and killed some time before our cabin was ready at 1:30. We were in a Balcony Stateroom (6534) which was perfectly located for us - just a short flight above the Promenade Cafe on Deck 5. Our stateroom attendant learned our names right away and took care of us splendidly.
I had arranged for our cabin to be decorated for my wife's birthday on the second day of the cruise, for a bouquet of flowers and a bottle of wine to be delivered. All of this happened right on schedule.
On her actual birthday, we dined at Portofino's which was very, very good. All our other meals were in the dining room. I have heard the food was not extraordinary, but adequate - and I feel that is an appropriate description. The menus are not wide-ranging or distinctive in any way.
Our itinerary had to be changed in order to out-maneuver the hurricanes, so we skipped Charlottetown and spent an extra day in Quebec City. That worked out great. The only down-side to that is our Saquenay River cruising happened at night, which misses the point completely. But the Captain and staff did a very good job of "calling an audible" and changing everything on the fly.
So our only ports of call were Sydney (nothing much to see), Quebec City (the jewel of the itinerary) and Halifax (a nice place, but we had bad weather). We purchased excursions for each port through Royal Caribbean, in advance.
At the end, we were very pleased. This is my favorite ship to date. Our only other RCCL ship was Splendour of the Seas, which I didn't like very much. But based on "Explorer", we have already booked a sailing on the new "Oasis of the Seas" for 2010.
Disembarkation was uneventful, we did the express check out, carried our own luggage, so we would be sure to get to the Newark Airport in time for our 12:00 PM flight. We hopped on a minibus for $14 a person without waiting.
Here are my short takes on things:
The entertainment was fine. There was only one show we truly didn't like - a group called "Toxic Audio".
The Cruise Director, Mike, was not among my favorites. His Australian "G'Day Mates" got old in a hurry, and really old after the 100th time.
The crew was spectacular.
There were a lot of Trivia Challenges. A good way to kill some time.
Not many sundries in the shops. We needed toothpaste and had to wait until our Quebec City shore excursion to buy some.
There is a LOT of live music throughout the ship. That is a very good thing.
Also, not many kids (or young people) for that matter on our cruise. And a lot of scooters - which fill up the elevators in a hurry.
All in all, it was a pretty good way to spend a birthday.