Embarkation: I booked a suite; breezed through priority check in. Embarkation Port: Cape Liberty- Old industrial port currently undergoing a makeover. Do not expect pretty. I enjoyed seeing old Navy ships in dry dock. I enjoyed seeing the older buildings. I didn't enjoy seeing older abandoned, crumbling buildings. I didn't enjoy seeing residential housing being built at the entrance to the port. They built a 911 memorial on land right next to where you get on the ship. It's really tall. It's art- make your own opinion.
Accommodations: Grand Suite 1556. Cheerful balances of warm pastel yellows and blues for furniture and drapes, darker blues for the carpet. Neutral tan tile floors, dark granite counter and bar surfaces. Warm honey wood tones. Lots of storage. Lots of space to spread out. Huge windows gave great views. Suite Defects: Razor outlet over sinks malfunctioned, put 220 volt out of 110 volt outlet (made my recharge transformer overheat.) Three other 110-volt outlets in suite worked fine. Stains on sofa. One closet door needed repair. TV malfunctioned (black horizontal lines distorted the picture when it got bright it, for a second or two). Remote control for entertainment system malfunctioned (cabin steward replaced it when I mentioned it). One light bulb in overhead lighting was burned out. Lighting had dimmers, but the dimmer for the overhead lights was broken. I figured out I could adjust it by sticking a plastic toothpick in it, to move the slider (rheostat). Some may say that these things are expected on a well-used cruise ship. I disagree. Do not expect a customer to put up with it because you didn't get around to fixing it. I'm tired of telling RCCL what needs fixing in their "better" cabins. I shudder to think what people in lesser accommodations have to endure. That's my opinion and hope you expect nothing less for your vacation dollar. Balcony: 95 square feet, roomy enough to call it a better accommodation. Unfortunately, the fresher coats of paint on the boat were peeling leaving paint chips all over the balcony. We tracked them inside all over room. You have to brush them off deck furniture before using it. It made you feel like you were on a poorly maintained ship. The cabin steward vacuumed carpets twice and balcony once a day to manage the problem, ineffectively.
Dining: Acceptable and satisfactory cruise food. To my surprise, compared to prior RCCL cruises, I found pleasing food choices at every meal. Found layer cakes served at lunch and dinner. I didn't starve. What surprised me was seeing dirt smears on walls in buffet dining areas from ineffective cleaning. Portofino, the best dining room on the ship had furniture more run down and damaged than anywhere else on the ship. A tawdry atmosphere created by the furniture and glaringly poor repairs to walls and fittings in Portofino convinced me to skip the 20 dollar per person surcharge for a gourmet meal. The venue falls far short from gourmet. Don't expect less from a premium dining experience. I did not use the main dining room or Spa.
Entertainment and Public Spaces/ Venues: So many choices you'll never use them all. If you're on a bigger RCCL ship don't miss the ice show, it's worth your time. I was entertained the entire cruise. The "general store" sold out of my brand of tobacco on the first night if the cruise so I waited till St. Thomas to make my purchases.
Casino: Tightest slots on the seven seas. I couldn't even get entertained for a couple hours through replaying small winnings. The machines just absorbed money. Theater: I saw the ship's karaoke final. Expect earaches! Fun though. I skipped all the other shows. Pools and hot tubs were always accessible. I didn't try to get a lounger near one. There are so many places to lay out in the sun on this ship, why bother? So many people claim them in the morning and all you see are empty loungers covered in towels, books, sandals, etc. So much for the "no reserving" policy.
Concierge lounge: Closed quarters (no windows) that felt tight and uncomfortable seeing so many people get use of it. Alternate concierge lounge (the game room) deck 14: Open 5-8:30pm, was better, had views. Open bar was the best and worth the price of booking a suite. At the cruise line's prices for libation, you get your money back, albeit having 3 ½ hours a day to do so. There was a spread of hors d'oeuvres, in both lounges daily, the food in the chafing dishes was dried out by the time we got to them.
Itinerary: Puerto Rico- I've been here it too many times, just walked around town. St. Thomas- Took excursion to St. John. Trunk Bay is a beautiful beach, I found a huge palm to relax under. I looked forward to Samana, Dominican Republic. Took the Discover Samana tour. First time I've been somewhere where people still use horses as primary transportation. Can't say I'd go back but it is a pretty place when you are away from the towns. There is a lot of poverty here. Labadee Haiti: This was my 3rd RCCL cruise that I've taken and 3rd time we missed this port. This time we missed it because the ship hit something in Samana and damaged a propeller. We missed the port so they could cruise home at reduced speed on 2 of the 3 ship's motors so as not to miss the next cruise embarkation date in Bayonne. I call it the Labadee curse. I am making no further attempt to visit Haiti, especially on an RCCL ship. The cruise line was good to us for this mishap by advancing us 200 dollars onboard credit per person. We gave it back to them in the casino. My partner was unnerved by having to be on the ship for three sea days. I came prepared with a paperback novel.
Disembarkation: Suite guests get off the ship right after the self walk-off passengers. Breezed through customs and was home by 10:00am In summation: I had a good vacation. I think Royal Caribbean is asking their passengers to tolerate an awful lot from Explorer of the Seas. I've been on 25-year-old cruise ships that needed to be pulled from service but never expected it from a ship less than 10 years old.