Getting to the port: We live in Queens so to get to the port we'd either have to go through NYC or Jersey. We decided to leave early just in case we encountered traffic. Left Queens at around 10 AM & hit absolutely no traffic so we got to the pier around 11AM. When arriving at the port we encountered the line everyone talks about at Bayonne. However, we were expecting this & took it in stride as we were extremely early for a 1PM boarding time. Sat in the traffic at the pier for about 15 minutes & made it into the shed. The only downside was the porter nicely told us to carry our hangers since he couldn't guarantee they wouldn't get thrown around & wrinkled so we ended up carrying around all our hanged stuff until our room was ready. When you enter the area where they log you in, they have sections set up, one for suites, one for floors 1 & 2, 3 & 4, etc. We were on floor 10 so we proceeded to that check in station. We waited approximately 10 minutes until we were up at the desk. Note, we both work in customer service to some degree & understand that having 2,500+ people to check in does take time & no one should expect to be able to just waltz in & onto a ship. It was unbelievable to us that some people were complaining about waiting & this was a foreshadowing of the behavior we would encounter by some (not all) of the passengers on this cruise. My BF & I have only been on short Carnival cruises, and maybe it is a monetary thing, but everyone on the first day on those cruises were just so excited to be there that no one had the attitudes we experienced while on this ship. As I stated above, we were very early & were checked in & sitting in the waiting area by 11:30. When you check in they give you a number so that when they call this number you know its your turn to get on the bus. While waiting in this area we had our cookies & drank our juice. Again, people were complaining, but we don't get to go on vacation that often & were just so excited to get on board & felt we had no reason to complain. I would say we were in the waiting around about 20 minutes once they started calling names. They called number 40 about 20 minutes after that & we headed towards the bus. Honestly, we probably could have walked to the ship but I guess this is their procedure so I understand that. Once we pulled up to the boat we walked right on & were greeted by the cruise staff telling us that lunch was ready in the Windjammer.
The Boat: This was our first time on a really big cruise ship & for this long. We were blown away by the atrium & the Royal Promenade. After being on a Carnival ship, we felt that the Explorer was more elegant & loved how the entire ship had a lot of art pieces. We tried to make full use of the ship.
Our room: We had an inside room on deck 10 towards the aft room number 1671. It was smaller than the room we had with Carnival, but on Carnival we had a window so that may have been why. When we booked our room in December, the outside cabins were almost double the price of the inside cabin which is why we chose to downgrade to an inside cabin. The room was nice, but next time we want a room with a view ? I over-packed as usual, and there was plenty of space for all my things & my boyfriend's things. Plus, we liked that there was room under the bed for our suitcases.
The food: We tried to go to every venue on the ship to get a sampling. Overall, I thought the food was good.
The MDR: We ate here for every dinner other than the night we ate at Portofino's & the night we were in San Juan. We sat at the second seating & requested a table for two which was honored. Our waiter said our dinner had far less people than the first seating. Overall I would say the food was very good. Everything came out hot. The only downside was that there wasn't as big a selection as on Carnival. But, the quality of the food was definitely much better than we had with Carnival the year prior. We usually ordered a soup or a salad each & then split one or two appetizers. The escargot was phenomenal as was the spinach dip. We didn't really eat dessert many nights because we were stuffed & also due to limited selections. Our waiter & assistant waiter were also amazing, but I'll discuss that later. We had one breakfast & one lunch in the MDR just to try it. Both were superb. Again, the only complaint was some of our table mates. For both breakfast & dinner (we were sat with different people obviously) not one person said please or thank you. Please if you are ever on a cruise ship be polite & say please & thank you. Our waiter was so thankful to us for being polite. It goes a long way. The food was good both times. For breakfast they have eggs made to order, pancakes, French toast, oatmeal etc. This was definitely better quality than the Windjammer. For lunch they had a really big salad bar where people made salads to order. They also had a phenomenal dessert, the peanut butter cake. It was delicious.
The Windjammer: We ate almost all our breakfasts here. We really liked the breakfast, while there wasn't much variety from day to day, breakfast is breakfast. Whoever told me about the oatmeal thank you! I loved it & by the end was putting bananas & raisins in it, delicious. Lunch was also good. Its classic buffet food but good none the less. Lunch had different choices everyday & some of the same, hot dogs, hamburgers, fries etc. We also had the afternoon snack a lot of the days, especially when we came back from port to hold us over till dinner. The make your own nachos/tacos station was good & it was the perfect snack food.
Portofino's: I have read mixed reviews of this specialty restaurant, but we thought it was delicious. We had the calamari & the cous cous. My boyfriend had the filet mignon & I had the seafood skewers which were also really good. We had the dessert sampler which we thought was out of this world! I finished with a cappuccino. Also, the service was wonderful as was the atmosphere.
Johnny Rockets: We ate here on our first sunny day at sea, Sunday. The food was not as good as the classic Johnny Rockets, but it was good. Also, it was fun to eat with the water right next to you. It was surreal. Plus, we got to see the waiters dance which is always fun. They did a good job & the service was really good here too.
The Staff: The one and only complaint we had about our staff was our room steward. Our room was close to the suites & he was the steward for them as well. Maybe it seems weird, but we requested 4 towels in our stateroom each night. We did this in case we decided to sleep in the next day we would always have enough towels. We also reuse towels so we just said please be sure there are 4 everyday, whether new or used. Yet, only once did we actually get 4 towels. Most of the time we either got 2 or none. I use one towel for my hair & one for my body & my bf uses one. When I would ask him he would say housekeeping didn't give him enough towels & that the other rooms needed towels also. Meanwhile he had a whole cart full of towels. Like I said, I work in the customer service industry & know that people can be annoying, but I don't think my request was that unordinary. The steward from a few doors down always ended up giving us extra towels & at the end of the week we tipped him extra for the inconvenience. Also, our steward conveniently forgot to give us our survey at the end of the trip. When I called down to the front desk they called him. He then called our room & yelled at us telling us its on the bed (which it definitely wasn't). We keep a very neat room & he definitely did not leave it in our room. He also didn't give us our bill the last day & we ended up at the concierge desk because of this. Maybe we are just used to Carnival as the room stewards on those cruises always go above & beyond. I am unsure. Like I said this was our only complaint & I feel we have good reason for it. Our waiter & assistant waiter were great. Our waiter's name was Warren & by the second night he felt like one of our friends. We chatted with him after dinner every night and found out about his family etc. He always made sure our food was hot & he always offered seconds. Service was fast & he realized right away we weren't people that sat in the dining room for a long time, so usually we were out of there in 45 minutes. He was absolutely fantastic. We left him & our assistant waitress an extra tip on top of the recommended & also wrote them a fantastic review. The assistant waitress actually hugged us when we left, she said we were so pleasant & easy to assist. Entertainment: All the shows we went to were very good. Both comedians that we saw were good, especially the guy the last night. He was very funny. They had a do-op group one of the nights & we thought they were very good. We don't even really like that music & we thought it was fantastic. Also a not missed is the ice show. We were amazed at how these people could do all the moves & tricks they did on the ice on a moving ship. Tickets go fast, my boyfriend was there 20 minutes early & we were already closed out of 2 of the shows. Get there early to pick up your tickets. We didn't go to the dancing with the stars one or the one the first night. Also, we weren't crazy about the parades, but they were cute, especially if you have kids.
Ports: San Juan - We walked around by ourselves. We got a map from the tourist desk & saw everything from the forts to the water. We spend a good 4 hours walking around sightseeing & shopping. Then we had a few beers at a local bar across the street from the Coach store. After that we went to Senor Frogs & had margaritas & nachos. It's a really fun place but not for children. When we got back on the boat they had the first of two midnight buffets which was excellent.
St. Thomas - At this port we decided to do the sail to Christmas & Honeymoon Coves, an RCL sponsored excursion. There wasn't much feedback on the boards about this excursion, but we absolutely loved it. They had someone out at the dock to escort us to our own pirate ship. I would say there were 40 or so people, which was a good size group but small enough where it doesn't feel crowded. We ended up not being able to go to Christmas cove due to choppy weather so they brought us to a different cove where we spend approximately an hour - hour & a half of snorkeling, we even got to see a ship wreck under the water. Once we were done snorkeling for the day, we were treated to non-alcoholic beverages, punch or beer brewed in St. Thomas. Then we sailed over to Honeymoon cove. Here you can choose to swim to shore or you can have them boat you there. My BF & I are in pretty good shape so we swam over, not a bad swim at all. They had a great buffet lunch set up for us with BBQ chicken & ribs, potato & macaroni salad & a green salad. The food was really good authentic bbq food; they even had a bbq set up on the island. We had a leisurely few hours on our own remote island; the only people there were the people from our ship. It was extremely relaxing. The crew was outstanding, they never let our cups go empty & there were plenty of beers for everyone. They were very helpful & funny. I would highly recommend this excursion, especially since the beaches of St. Thomas can get really crowded when a lot of ships are at port. This excursion is $99 per person, but worth it when you factor in lunch, drinks & snorkeling.
Dominican Republic - We decided for this day to do another excursion with RCL to the island of Cayo Levantado. When researching we didn't see many beaches that were cheaper than this excursion. The night before this excursion we received an envelope with our color & when to go to Studio B for our tender. We picked our time when reserving this excursion. The process of getting on the boats were a breeze. The water was rocky but we were on the island in about 8 minutes. The island is very beautiful. They have a separate area of the island for those who came from the ship. We opted to not do the package with the lunch included so we didn't eat here. It was another relaxing day sitting on our lounge chairs & going in the water with our boat in the distance. It wasn't very crowded & we found a lounge chair right away. We were happy with this excursion, especially when we found out from people on the boat that Semana itself was not much to see. We would again recommend this excursion. Of course, this was the night that the ship hit the coral reef. My boyfriend & I were taking a nap when all of a sudden it felt like we hit something. I said it sounded like we scraped along the bottom of the sand. We figured since there was no announcement that maybe this was what happened when you leave a tendered port (we have never been at one before this port). The next morning at about 8AM we heard the announcement by the captain that we a propeller malfunctioned. My boyfriend & I knew that it couldn't have malfunctioned, we knew we hit something. None the less, we were happy with our $200 credit, but would have liked to go to Labadee & have another beach day. The last day of our trip we heard some of the staff talking about hitting a coral reef & how much trouble the captain was in. We were not really nervous about the propeller because we knew RCL would not risk the law suits if there was severe trouble with the boat. We were also happy that we were able to stay on the boat & dock in NJ as scheduled.
Summary: Overall we had a fantastic trip with RCL & would recommend this ship (once fixed) & itinerary to anyone looking for a relaxing vacation. The cruise did not have many people in their 20s or 30s, but I think that is to be expected on a January cruise. I'm curious if there are more young people during the summer months. We were not looking to meet other people our age so that didn't bother us. We definitely had a great time & will sail with RCL in the future.