Explorer of the Seas Review-November 21-30, 2008
This is a LONG review! This wasn't a perfect cruise, but it wasn't horrible. These are my opinions and experiences only-good and bad! I'm trying to be objective and if you disagree, that's fine. There were people on this cruise who probably thought it was perfect, but in my opinion it was not. So, if you want to stick around and read, GREAT! If not, that's fine too! We are BACK on this ship in 2 months, so I will be able to see if the bad stuff was a result of dumb luck, holiday cruising or both!
We (mom & I) began our 2nd cruise on Ex a day early on November 20th. Left work a bit early, got home, loaded the car and we set off to our pre-cruise hotel, the EWR Spring Hill Suites by Marriott. On the way, stopped at Jersey Gardens Diner for a late lunch/early dinner. (The diner is ACROSS from Jersey Gardens mall, adjacent to the oft-mentioned Courtyard, Residence Inn and Country Inn on Glimcher Realty Way in Elizabeth/Newark.) Excellent meal, big portions. Desserts were very good, but a smidge on the dry side. No biggie.
Arrived at the hotel. SHSs are more or less 2 room suites with a sitting area and sleeping area. Our room on the 5th floor was fine for one night. I won't get into all the details about the little issues with the hotel, as things that annoy me about Marriott properties most likely would not bother someone just sleeping for one night. The room was perfectly fine. Several things didn't work properly-including the heat and it was COLD, but I got a special rate so I didn't press the issue. The manager was very nice when I pointed out the several small issues. Again, it was clean, comfy and fine for our purposes. I'd say an 8 out of 10.
The hotel arranged for a car service ( I asked for a cab, they called a driver and car-same price, actually cheaper since there was no meter!) He arrived on the dot as requested. Nice guy, clean car and only $45 bucks which was great as we hit traffic and if it was a cab with a meter-YIKES!
"Guesting" We departed around 10:30 and headed to Cape Liberty. BUT we could not see the ship! Uh oh, BRIEF moment of panic!!! Apparently, Ex docks a bit father down the pier than she has in the past. Thus, we couldn't see her like we did a couple years ago. (I knew she was there...or on the way! And as I had NOT gotten a call from RC, or noticed any comments here on CC, I figured we were good!)
Pulled up to the baggage drop off around 11. Found a porter who asked if we needed baggage tags (we did not-had them! Woo hoo!) Handed over the stuff and 6 bucks for the 3 bags and walked into the terminal. Went through security, and to the special Plat, Dia/Dia Plus/Suite line to check in, then grabbed a seat in the special area! All of that took, eh, 10 minutes! Munched on the 1st coconut ranger cookies of the cruise! Around noon, they started boarding the buses to the ship! We were aboard shortly after noon.
First stop, the DaGama dining room to check on our table. I emailed RC a few months prior and asked for a table for 2. Hip, hip hooray, that's what we got. Table 465. Decent location! Next, off to WJ for lunch.
Here is our first little snag. Generally there is a WIDE variety of food and it is tasty and hot! Well...not today. There was a beef, chicken, fish and vegetarian selection as well as veggies and rice and potatoes. Problem was, everything was luke warm, under cooked or just plain dried out! Even the ever-popular honey stung chicken was bad. (Frankly I do not understand the attraction...it is JUST chicken!!!)
Desserts were better though! We didn't go hungry, but frankly I had hoped for food that was at least the SAME as it had been in the past. I just got the impression that this was a cutback-and a fairly obvious one at that. Also, the crew up there didn't seem to have it all together yet. Perhaps many of them are new? Oh well.
Waited in a lounge til cabins were available around 1:30. We got to our cabin, 9318, center hump JS and were happy with the space. Last time on Ex we had a regular balcony cabin so it was good to be back to the extra room for storage! We met our cabin attendant, Emerlyn shortly before dinner. We noticed several issues. First, the floor had not been vacuumed well, the heat/AC was TOOO cold, the tub drips and there is no way to turn down the earpiece volume on the phone! Add that to the fact that I waited maybe 30 minutes for someone to ANSWER the phone, and I was getting angry.
Muster was awful! It was COOOOLLLLDDDD outside and of course, about 20 people from our station were LATE...and probably 100 or more that were late-period! Come on folks! SHOW UP ON TIME! I know it is vacation, but this is the ONLY thing you HAVE to do (aside from GET OFF at the end!) It was about 35 degrees and windy in Bayonne. The CD starts announcing that muster is happening about 30 minutes ahead. Get there on time!
OH...and the passengers...more rude than on our last cruise on Ex. Smoking where they shouldn't, running, pushing into elevators, SQUISHING you in the elevator and pretending to not understand "MOVE" after being asked nicely to stop invading my space! Sheesh! Really, at least 4 people were squishing me! What a mess. And, even though there are, supposedly, more areas for non smokers, the stench of stale smoke is really bad here. Not so much in the cabins, but all over the ship. Not sure why. I guess it was due to the cold, and the doors to deck 4 always opening. And, people were smoking in the elevator landings since they are too lazy (or too cold) to go outside. I don't want to flame the smokers (nor do I want to be flamed) but please, smoke in the designated areas!
After a number of calls, and a conversation with the housekeeping supervisor, we hoped things would work out! We will see. By the time we got back from dinner, at least the AC/Heat was better and the floor vacuumed.
Our bags arrived shortly after we returned from muster. We unpacked and before we knew it we were underway! It was way to cold to go outside so I watched us go under the Verrazano bridge from INSIDE our cabin!
This is our first cruise as diamonds so we have access to the Concierge lounge. Yay! Ricardo is quite personable and the lounge offers cocktails, hors d'oeuvres, breakfast, etc. And it was nice to get ice show tickets all in one stop! The CL is a very nice touch and we made good use during the week. There was a satellite lounge up in Viking Crown but we never went, and it's a smoking area up there anyway, so we just went to the regular CL. It really was only crowded the first 2 nights, and the final night! Eventually, it was off to dinner. At long last, we hoped for a decent meal. We had Vidalia onion tart, tortilla soup, the pan fried pork medallions and the pavlova and savarin for dessert. The food was very good. Again, though the entrEe could have been hotter and the potato and vegetables were also on the cold side. Never met the headwaiter this first evening.. Our server is Jeannebive from the Philippines and her assistant is Reony from Costa Rica. Both were nice, and as the cruise progressed, so did their level of service. We will see. I am surprised, though that the head waiter never arrived. Actually I always saw clusters of 3 or 4 of them chatting, but never did I see them making the rounds of diners!
The Captain is Sverre Ryan, CD is Mike "the thunder from down under" Hunnerup and Ricardo is the Concierge. We skipped the welcome aboard show. Seas are rather choppy....MANY white caps. Oh well. We took our Bonine and we will be fine.
After a long day, I fell asleep by 10! So much for running around the ship!
Saturday-day 2, at sea!
Still rockin' & rollin'! Seasick bags have been deployed throughout the ship! Yikes! Got up at about 10 of 6 and went back to sleep. Began running amok about 7. Had a small snack (love the pastries at the cafe Promenade!) and back to the cabin to type this! Time to go check out the CL! The cappuccino machine is great! Selection of pastries and breads, some sliced meats and cheese and juices. Another little snack! Breakfast in the dining room was good, but the DR was crowded, as was WJ. Service again was a little slow-the food took a very long time to come out, and part of our order was missing! Oh well. We were hoping the cabin would be done, but as of 10:30, it is not.
Our CC meet & mingle was today in the Chamber. About 30 people attended and it was great to meet everyone! I didn't win any prizes, but we had a nice time talking!
Lunch in WJ was disappointing again. Cold and overcooked food, that really lacked variety. And another thing I have noticed is that the gift shop is very low on stock. There just isn't very much merchandise. In the past there have been racks and racks of shirts, clothes and all sorts of stuff. It really looks like a "going out of business" sale! I mentioned this to Runi, the LA and she said that other guests noticed the same thing. Apparently the gift shop manager told her that more things were coming on the ship in St. Thomas so we will see.
We used our coupons to attend the wine tasting. It was interesting. We tasted 5 wines plus a sparkling wine. If you don't have a C&A coupon, it's $9.95 if I remember correctly! We like wine, but we aren't big wine experts so this was fun and informative. The Cellar Master mainly said, you like what you like and drink what you like, as everyone has different tastes. So this is a good way to try and discover things that are good!
Tonight is formal night and the Captain's cocktail party. We got seats at cafe promenade for the activities. Champagne, mimosas and wine were passed. Listened to the speeches and we were off to the dining room!
Dinner again was on the cold side. Finally met our headwaiter, Tom from Croatia (he is a "short" 6' 6"!) He quickly took our plates away and returned a few minutes later with steaming hot food! Things may be looking up! But honestly, to have sub-par food on formal night? Really, butter wouldn't even melt in the baked potatoes! Bad move.
We haven't seen any of the shows yet, so I can't comment. Skipped the welcome aboard show and "Vibeology." Will see the ice show later in the week. Marty Allen was a headliner. He has been around FOREVER! And there have been a couple comedians as well.
Sunday was pretty much another lazy day on the ship! Our dinner was super hot again! Of course, mere seconds before our server brought us the dinners, I saw the head waiter zooming down the steps with two covered dishes. Hmmm! Yup, ours! But what a difference hot food makes! Tonights' menu was not all that exciting. If Ex had a Chops, we would have gone there. We had vegetable samosas, cream of cauliflower soup, Caesar salad, Thai-style shrimp and the alternate menu grilled chicken (which was very good!). Dessert, the passion fruit meringue tart was excellent! Third best RC dessert! I could have eaten two!
So, here it is, Monday and we are going to Labadee. But, when I woke up and looked outside it's VERY dark and the seas are full of white caps. Turned on the bridge cam/weather channel. Four to seven foot seas, and gale force winds. So at 7 AM I declare to mom, we are skipping Labadee. Or we will be late. Then, at 8 AM, bing bing bing....Captain Ryan comes on the PA and says that due to heavy rain, rough seas and high winds, we are, in fact skipping Labadee. We had been told earlier that we were going to swap Samana for San Juan-also due to weather. Now it seems we will have a very long day in San Juan, as we are heading right there. Works for me! I will find some stuff to do! Don Q rum factory looks like a goodie, and I will go find an internet cafe, and maybe that La Bombanera bakery, among other things, since it is my birthday!.
San Juan was fun, and I am not a big fan. Met several great people, so I was happy! Checked out the Marriott Hotel and Stellaris casino for future reference. It's really lovely. Got a tour from a super nice bellman. Rooms are NOT big, but perfectly fine (not small either!) I saw a double-double with an oceanfront view! Gorgeous view out over the ocean. And, there is a nice, comfy chair an ottoman for enjoying the view from inside!
Hit Don Q and Starbucks (for internet!) walked around a bit, and back to the ship! We were in port with the Eurodam, Carnival Triumph and BRAND-NEW Celebrity Solstice! So, we spent a lot of time analyzing the cabin/balcony size from the comfort of our cabin! Some of the cabins on the Solstice look very small! One thing we noticed, on Eurodam, the cabin attendants were squeegy-ing the glass on the balconies. We had been told that all the window glass was to be cleaned today, but that never happened. Actually, our cabin attendant told us they would be cleaning each of the 3 port days. They never made it off deck 10! I finally got a wet towel and carefully cleaned our balcony glass! Didn't even drop the towel overboard!
Left SJ at 10-off to St Thomas. Here, I basically shopped a little, bought liquor and went back to the ship for lunch. We ate in WJ again-this time we had a really nice server, but frankly things are not getting any better here! Found out that instead of Samana, we would be going to Grand Turk as the weather was still not getting any better! Seems that there was some sort of big storm in the Atlantic that was hammering the island of Hispaniola making tendering difficult. We would arrive sometime around noon on Thanksgiving and be in port until 6 PM. I credit Captain Ryan for taking us someplace that would have a dock so we could do something!
We arrived in GT at 1, so our time was extended until 7PM. The beach is lovely, but aside from a half dozen stores, and Margaritaville, it was not that impressive. Margaritaville was a disaster. We got there before the place got packed. Service was non existent. Our actual waiter never showed up. We called another who took our order, but then 30 minutes later we still had no drinks or food. Found the manager, and not 5 minutes later we had everything. Too bad it was horrible. (Are you seeing a trend here?) The mango 'ritas were lousy and the burgers were lukewarm. Only good thing was the fries. And, the total was 50 bucks. Get serious! They had the nerve to charge a 15% gratuity for a server I never saw? Uh, no! The manager took it off, and we gave a few dollars to the guy who took the order. I can see why this is NOT a regular RC port! Frankly, I would have been happier going BACK to San Juan, or over to St Maarten, or even the Bahamas! (At least I got a passport stamp!)
As this was Thanksgiving, the Chef prepared a nice turkey dinner with all the trimmings. One of the special desserts was called pumpkin pecan pudding. Well, that is not what I would call it, rather it was more like bread pudding than Jell-o Pudding but it was DELICIOUS! The turkey was tasty as was the ham.
Friday was a day at sea. Went to WJ for a quick bite, after pre-breakfast in the CL! Attended the cooking demo, which was a riot! More like a comedy show, not too much cooking involved but it was fun. Then, attempted to go to JRs to use our coupon. After a 40 minute wait, I asked how much longer. Couldn't get a straight answer from the host, who was very rude! Spoke with the supervisor after we ate in the WJ again! She said it's hard for them to know how long people will sit, and they can't rush them. On land when you give your name in a restaurant for the wait list, and they call you 2 or 3 times, and you are not there, they remove you from the list! Not here! Apparently, people complain (go figure!) if they are called 5 or 6 times...it's OK for them to wander over, and then get seated before people who sat in the cold for an hour! Give me a break RC! And, in another cut, JRs only opens at 3 on port days! The supervisor offered to comp our lunch on Saturday, but I refuse to deal with that again, so I think I will just get a couple malts to go!
This was also the second formal night. Lobster tail was on the menu as part of the Fisherman's platter. I was offered seconds, but frankly I was full! This is the only time I eat lobster. Yes, they can be a little small, but mine tasted fine and was not rubbery!
Saturday, our last day was cold and gloomy. Spent the day finishing up our packing. Around noon, Capt. Ryan announced that a passenger had to be MedEvaced from the ship. Not sure why, but I heard it was appendicitis. He came on the PA again about 30 minutes ahead and said that the helicopter would arrive in about half an hour. Went out on deck to watch. The chopper and a Coast Guard plane circled for several minutes and the helicopter came in close to the deck. According to the concierge, they do not land as the water that gets thrown around by the rotors makes visibility terrible. So, the chopper dropped a basket. Apparently, the bridge cam was on, so mom saw the whole thing on TV! I hope the person is OK....but it was neat to see this happen. It's a first for us in 7 cruises.
Wound up booking another cruise, but I think that we will probably change it somewhere down the road. And, RC messed up my OBC. I originally used the booking number for this trip as a 5-nighter to Bermuda. Thus when we switched, RC never updated the OBC amount and they can't do anything about it now! So, I get to fight it out with them when I get home! I really don't understand why it is so hard to fix things like OBC! And apparently the LA and her staff are very frustrated with the lack of response from their people at RC! Runi is a wonderful Loyalty Ambassador and she takes care in assisting passengers with any issues they may have! Lucky for us, she will be on the ship when we return in February, as will Ricardo!
A piece of advice for anyone cruising during school holidays: there will be LOTS of kids, they will run around the ship all the time, and no one from the ship will stop them! They have been congregating in stairwells every day, playing in elevators, leaving dirty dishes all over the ship, running in the halls, running down the stairs, then jumping off the last two or three steps and otherwise causing trouble. Really, some of their behavior is causing safety hazards. We have complained, but frankly nothing is done. I have never noticed this much noise on ANY cruise in the past (OK, well maybe when we were over the Karaoke bar on Enchantment!) Normally we do not hear noise from cabins above....well this time, there is a herd of elephants over our heads. It's really ridiculous!
The final day at sea provided some excitement. A passenger had to be airlifted off the ship by the Coast Guard due to appendicitis. This was the first time in our cruising history that we witnessed an air evacuation. Hopefully the passenger will be ok. It was very interesting to see the helicopter hover over the heliport to carry the passenger (and, I presume, someone in his family) off to a hospital. The Captain announced that this would take place, and he mentioned that many people may have noticed we changed course slightly - we were someplace in the vicinity of Elizabeth City, NC when the USCG arrived. Special thanks to the men and women who serve in the USCG protecting our country, waters and lives!
After we did some more packing, picture taking and a few activities (Captains Corner and Towel Folding!), it was time to get ready for a final trip to the CL (Thanks Ricardo and Ismaiel!), I attended the farewell show and we went to our (sob) last dinner! OK, so we are back here in 61 days! (Unless I change THAT one to something else...at least there should be less juvenile delinquents!) The final dinner was excellent! The double cut roast pork loin was one of the best meals the entire cruise!
The farewell show and comedian were very good, as was the ice show on Friday afternoon. Merrill Osmond, (yes THE Osmonds) was one of the headliners, but I skipped that! Wound up winning $200 in the casino the last 2 days as well! That will come in handy for the holidays! We finished packing, went to our final dinner, handed out our gratuity envelopes and turned in. As mom hurt her ankle in the cabin the second day, we were using wheelchair assist!
We would have been able to use the Priority departure lounge as Diamonds, and we had gray tags. However, since mom has been in a wheelchair due to her ankle, we were to go to the Conference Center to be escorted off the ship. We tied up to the pier almost exactly at 7 AM. After a quick cup of tea and a pastry, I stopped by GR to have them refund the wheelchair deposit and to pay off our SeaPass account. After wheeling mom to the designated area and going back to the cabin for our carry ons, I settled in to wait. The express walk off people were called around 8:30 or so, and we were told it would be about 9:30 before we were called.
It was about 9:45 or so when we were escorted to a bus and driven to the terminal. There was someone there to wheel off mom, and a porter appeared out of nowhere. Found our luggage super fast, loaded it up, rolled over to a cab, and we were in our car on the way to breakfast before 10:30 AM! Cape Liberty REALLY has this pretty well organized. Even in the super horrible weather! (It was cold, rainy, sleet, snow, hail and just plain awful!) Wound up taking an alternate route home and we found a diner (boy it's good to live in New Jersey!), stopped at a grocery store and pulled into the driveway about 1:30.
All in all, this cruise was about a 7 out of 10. I can count on two hands the number of crew that were pleasant, and that's really sad. The doctor and nurse in the medical facility were fine-there really wasn't much they could do for a sprained ankle. Service in the WJ improved after a major discussion with one of the supervisors. After that, the servers were always there to assist with trays, carrying food, getting beverages, etc. However, this should happen WITHOUT complaining!
Our headwaiter turned out to be very nice. He personally delivered our food for a couple days, then explained that he trained our server and assistant how to get the food hot! And hot it was! I hope to be able to contact him in the coming weeks for another table for 2! We got a 7-night, platinum wine package. At one point, another CCer made a very nice table with all the prices, and calculations of the best values. Wish I could remember who it was! I saved it and put it to good use, so you know who you are! Thanks a million! We saved probably $35 using the chart to buy the wines with the highest savings!
We used the pre paid gratuities and supplemented them with some cash as well (and a phone card for the cabin attendant! She was so nice, got us bags of ice every day for mom's foot!). Also tipped the bartender in the CL, and the Concierge as well (he was kind enough to get the passport control officer to arrange for stamps in Turks and Caicos for us!)
On the final day, RC really must have an elevator dedicated to getting mobility-impaired passengers off the ship. Frankly, the only long wait was for an elevator. This cruise was full of people (not all the cabins were sold as one couple insisted on a cabin change due to noise-I think there were a few open insides or promenade-view cabins) and there has to be a more organized way to use the elevators! Also, on Saturday night, the baggage handlers were using guest elevators to move luggage. They really should have stuck with the service elevators.
We knew there would be a lot of kids on this cruise; however, we didn't realize they would be running around the ship so much without supervision! I never saw anyone from security on the ship trying to move them along! The last couple days I was waiting for someone to really get hurt the way they jumped on the stairs and pounded the glass doors on the elevators.
What we really didn't expect was the high amount of rude passengers. Refusing to budge when politely asked, running in front of you to get into an elevator, congregating in doorways and squishing into an already-overstuffed elevator! Some of these people made what I considered rude passengers on other ships look like angels!
I will post pictures later so check the link in my signature! All in all, this wasn't a bad cruise, it just had a lot of room for improvement. We still like RC and will sail again, but we honestly considered attempting to change our February booking to a different ship. Hopefully someone at RC will read the comment card and give a refresher course in NICE to some of the crew. Again, there were some who were exceptional, but I guess it was our turn to get some of the bad apples!
I will try to answer any questions! If you stuck around this long, thanks for reading-see you on the ship! And yes, I heard reliably (but unofficially) that there will be, say in 2010, another ship-probably bigger-sailing from Cape LIBERTY past the Statue of LIBERTY to hopefully fun destinations. But, you didn't hear it from me. And nothing is in black and white, but RC likes full ships. And they like to have ships in ports that lots of people can get to by driving. And there is talk of EXPLORing 4, 5 and 5 night cruises from Florida. What did Patrick Henry say back in 1775???