Explorer of the Seas Holiday Cruise 12/21/08-1/2/09 Background: We are a family of 3 DH- 53yo, DW-48yo and DS-10yo. We have sailed a few times before, but this is our 2nd holiday cruise, last year on BOS for 12 nights too. This is our first time on the ExOS, but since it leaves from our homeport we wanted to give it try. We have not sailed on any other cruise line as RCI seems to fit us in relation to cost and product. This cruise was originally booked with Tortola as a port and Christmas day as a sea day. However, RCI changed it: they dropped Tortola at the end giving us three sea days at the end instead of two...it really only takes two days to return, so at times it seemed like we were just floating at sea....not that sea days are bad, but we wanted to visit Tortola. Also they put San Juan as a port on Christmas day. Nothing is opened on Xmas day in PR...what a waste and bad planning. Also this change caused us to visit Barbados on a Sunday. I was told most stores except those in the terminal were opened.
Embarkation: Since we live 10 miles away from port liberty we had a car service pick us up at 11:00am. No problem except once you enter the terminal...a one lane only approach to the "tent" for check in. This approach took over 30 minute. RCI has to correct this. Once inside, we went through check in, the Diamond area, and had our sea pass in 15 minutes. We found some seats as boarding was scheduled for 12:25. Many people were already waiting to board and we were told they gave numbers to early arrivers and they would be called first. RCI has no knowledge of crowd control and I hope they never really need too. When they opened the doors at 12:30 to get on the buses to be taken to the ship...it reminded me of the black Friday incident at Wal-Mart. It's a good thing the RCI staff got out of the way. We sat and enjoyed some great cookies and coffee while the hoards entered the first bus. The next bus load was no better and was indeed a foreshadow of the general behavior of passengers on this cruise. Have people forgotten courtesy? My DS is short and almost got trampled on by someone who couldn't just take it a bit slower walking on the bus. Even while waiting for the bus, other passengers didn't seem to have the "cruise buzz" and friendliness as we experienced while waiting to board on other cruises. Once off the bus, we walked right on the ship, greeted by RCI staff with a hello and smile and told to go to the windjammer for lunch.
Stateroom: We had GS1324 on the hump. This was our first GS, we have always had JS's before, and it was great. Nice view and location. No noise from anywhere. The room did show some signs of wear, like wall paper pealing, ends of the dimmer switches were missing and the couch/bed needs replacing....in fact it is too small to sleep a full sized adult....rci needs to replace it with a full sized sofa bed. We are hooked on the GS..but still love JS aft's too. Plenty of space. Lots of closet/drawers and full length mirrors. Our room attendant Akil, remembered us from our first cruise on the JOS. He and his team did a fantastic job in keeping the room clean, always had extra towels and ice in our bucket. The perks of a GS were fun....lots of choc covered strawberries, cookies, fruits, water...and a welcome bottle of our favorite drink from Ricardo, the concierge.
Ship information The ship seemed too large on the first day but we became comfortable very quickly. There was a big tree in the promenade and poinsettias' and wreaths in most areas. Automatic hand-sanitizer dispensers were available at the entrance to all the dining venues and at the gangway and staff was present to ensure it was used. Additional signs of wear were on the elevator buttons that really needed to pressed hard to work, some carpet spots...but overall in good shape. RCI is always cleaning something. Most activities were on the promenade; however it is not large enough to handle the crowds, so we avoided it during ship wide events. In fact, while the promenade is a nice wide area it is not much more than deck of stores....kind of lost any special value for us after the 3rd day. Nice cookies, sandwiches and snacks from the cafe 24 hours a day. One issue was all the sandwiches have mayonnaise on them? The servers seemed annoyed when ask for one without. Staff generally was always friendly saying good day sir with a smile.
Dining: We did not eat in the main dining room so I cannot comment on this. We did eat at Portofino 6 times...each time perfect. Excellent service was given by Betina and Lucashz, our servers each time. Food in the windjammer was always luke warm, I like my food hot and I had to ask them to microwave my plate....RCI turn up those warmers. I got tired of this, but servers were always willing to help and always there for getting drinks and coffee...good job RCI. We ate at Johnny Rockets twice, good hamburgers and root beer soda (only place on the ship to get it)...and the food was always hot. Don't miss a visit to it...it's a fun lunch. Many times I ate breakfast in the concierge lounge....a nice spread and good coffee....I made good use of that machine.
Activities: Always something to do. Some British specific events, I guess due to the large numbers, like a Quiz on British Soap Opera shows and a British trivia events game. The mini golf course has been re-done so it's perfect....the ping-pong tables need replacing. The rock wall continues to challenge me. Adventure Ocean continues to be a success for my DS. The staff was always friendly. However, we did look at the kids compass for the next age group, 12-14. That did not seem to offer much in the way of planned activities or supervision. Had a Caricaturist on the promenade doing free drawings, a nice touch, ours came out nice and makes for a great memory.
Service: Excellent service from everyone......the cleaning crew that always says good day, to the officers that say welcome home when we came back from an excursion. Ricardo the Concierge always helpful, with a smile, hello, and hug. Always offers to get you a drink, coffee or something...keep up the good work....hope to see you next year.
Entertainment: Day1-Marcus Monroe-juggler-good show Day2-Beatlemanics-very good show and we would see them again Day3-fast forward-ok show Day4-Movie-the polar express or the ice skating show Sprits of the Season.-very good ice show-don't miss it Day5-Jordan Bennett and Dominique Ava-great singer and violinist-don't miss it Day 6-RCI Singers/Dancer-Vibeology- don't waste your time. They (tried)did cover songs of Elvis, Beatles, Sting and others...the worst show I've ever seen. Day 7-Antonio Salci-we missed the show so cannot comment Day 8-Blades Ice Show-very good, we would see it again Day 9-Invitation to Dance-we missed it Day 10-Martin Lewis-magician-very good. Same exact show as last year when we saw him on the BOS. He needs a new routine ay 11- the Happenings-very good show-don't miss it Day 12- farewell variety show-we missed it The shows were well presented by excellent stage support staff. Viewing shows are easy from most vantage points, except some, where columns are present.
Ports: Labadee, 8-4:30 -great weather, we had a nice time walking on the beach. Excellent BBQ-great ribs...too bad they never made their way back to ship. I would have loved to taste them again. We wanted to experience snorkeling for the first time here, but due to construction of the larger pier, the water was murky and they didn't offer any equipment. But still a nice relaxing beach day. The market place is one area where you need to be aware of yourself. Lots of grabbing and people wanting to sell you things. I don't like this type of environment, but it is typical of island life in tourist areas. San Juan 12-7:30-we stayed on the ship, played mini golf, ping-pong..it did rain some that afternoon St. Marten 8-5:30- we took the ferry over to Phillipsburg and walked around. Had a nice lunch and a few icy drinks on the beach. Had a 10 minute shower that day. Dominicia 8-4:30-Very lush island. We did the Aerial Tram, booked through RCI. A nice ride w/narration was provided through the town and country side. The tram was a nice modern car seating about 12 persons. On the way up over the tree tops we received narration of the area and fauna. Once on top, we hiked trough the forest to a suspension bridge....I was nervous, but didn't look down. Once across, we re-met the tram for the ride down. This is a very professional operation and highly recommended. Once down, free rum punch was served. Once back at the pier we walked around. A nice island and well worth another visit. Had Big Booper and DW from the M&M with us on this...they are nice...we'd do an excursion with them again anytime. Barbados 8-3:30- we booked the 4x4 island tour and Harrison caves through RCI. Nice narrated tour through the countryside. Caves were a bit commercial. A big train seating 12 persons x 2 pulls you through the cave. I'd rather walk in a smaller group next time. We had some real loud people on this tour which ruined the experience of quietness in a cave. The ride back in the 4x4 was with a family of 6, they were nice....the ride went through the forest and along the beach. A short stop for some free rum punch..and then back to the ship. Overall, I'd recommend it if you have never been in a cave before. Antigua 10-4:30-DW booked the zip line through RCI....I have heights issues.....the suspension bridge is enough for me......but DW loved it. I just walked around the town, sat and had a cold drink. It rained a few times today, but not too bad. Disembarkation: The saddest part of the trip. We had white #1, which had us called 8-9:15. We had some coffee and donuts at the cafe and went down to deck 1.....not a long line .....on the bus and back to the tent.....in the tent it was hectic, but not too bad given the nature of the event. We got our bags and through customs in 2 minutes..no line there. Our car service was waiting and we were in our house by 10:30.
Summary: RCI had the M&M in the chamber...I felt it was too dark, Dizzy's would have been better. It was well attended, not by the 90+ signed up , but by about 40 or so. Still, most people sat around and not "mingled" as much in other M&M's...sorry guys, JMO. I personally didn't connect with lifelong friends...but maybe that's my fault???? But did make some acquaintances, maybe make them more solid if we see you next year ? It did seem that passengers were just not as friendly as on other cruises....I'm not sure why. We always say hi, good morning, etc..rarely got a response back....could it be me again..not this time. Passenger demographics? I wouldn't say so...no single market in the world on bad manners/rudeness. Just the way it was. I didn't experience any bad teen/children issues, but heard from others that there were. A family was thrown off in Barbados. Two issues, we asked if we could have Bridge tour...initially told it was a security issue...then told that only diamond + members get tours .....which is it? We also planned to have open ice skating on the last day at 9am for suite guests only...only to be told at 8:45 that they cancelled it....just while we are on our way there. We did have nice conversations with guest in the CL, some which are booked for next year too...we'll see you again. Overall a nice ship.......would do it again anytime.