We have recently returned to the UK from our 12 night cruise on Explorer. We booked this cruise originally in a GS, however we were successfully waitlisted for an OS, although by doing so we in effect 'lost' our 'early booking discount'.
We are in our mid 40's and were cruising alone on this occasion. We have cruised several times before with RCI and Celebrity. Due to a bad fall last year, I have mobility issues and cannot walk very far. We therefore chose not to participate in any shore excursions.
We decided to fly into Newark 3 nights prior to the cruise. We booked direct flights with BA from London Heathrow's T5. The BA lounge at T5 is very pleasant and we enjoyed a good breakfast before boarding. The aircraft was, according to the crew, one of the older planes and one of the few which had not been upgraded.
A wheelchair was waiting for me at the gate and 30 minutes after landing we had gone through immigration, collected our luggage and were on our way into Manhattan. We had booked Black Car Transportation following recommendations on here at a cost of $79, inclusive of taxes.
As we have visited NY several times previously, we decided to stay in lower Manhattan, therefore we booked the Millennium Hilton Hotel, which is literally across the street from the WTC site. Our room was on the 40th floor, directly overlooking the WTC site. The hotel is pleasant enough, but the rooms and public areas are looking rather tired in places. Drinks were an appalling price at $6 for a glass of diet coke from a soda machine!
Even though we were on the 40th floor, the noise from the WTC works was still very evident. They are working 24/7 and whilst we still slept well, I would not recommend staying on one of the lower floors as it would be impossible to sleep.
We ate at the following restaurants in NY:-
Hooters - DH loves their wings & snow-crab which we don't get in the UK. Well that was the reason he gave me!
Morton Steakhouse -they only have a Prime Rib steak on a Friday & Saturday, which is a cut we are not used to in the UK.
Plataforma Churrasscaria - a Brazilian restaurant where they carve the meat from skewers at your table. Fabulous meal, but their gin & tonics were so very strong that after only 2 I was trashed!!
On the 5th April we awoke to a beautiful blue sky. Black Cars collected us from our hotel at 10.00 and we arrived at Cape Liberty at 10.45. The cost was again $79. However we were not able to board until 12.00 noon. It wasn't a long wait but at other ports we have been onboard within 15 minutes.
Understandably the suites and cabins were not available yet, however we managed to drop off our hand luggage so that we didn't have to carry them round. We headed to WJ for lunch, which was very busy but we were still able to find a table very easily.
All cabins were ready at 1.30 and when we ventured down at 2.00 all our luggage was already waiting.
Muster drill was held at 3.30. As I walk with a stick, we were allowed to use the lift, which was extremely helpful.
Our Suite Attendant was Ronalfo Rufano (Ron). He was very attentive and catered to our needs, we requested ice twice a day, diet coke in the mini-bar and feather pillows, which he brought immediately. The room was made up very quickly and we never came back to find it un-made, even if we had only been gone for 30 minutes.
We had only requested the OS as opposed to the GS, due to the separate shower , however we were extremely pleased with the accommodation as it appeared to have been recently refurbished.
One thing that was not available, was in-suite Internet, even though the data cable was there. We were informed that on this itinerary, the only internet availability for your own laptop was at the WIFI hotspots.
We had an email from Concierge, Kelly Rizzaldo several days prior to our cruise, detailing the amenities we could expect.
We have not sailed in a suite before with RCI, therefore we were looking forward to using the CC lounge, particularly in an evening before dinner. We were though very disappointed with the lounge and quite honestly, there are so many other beautiful locations, we would rather pay for a drink in a better surrounding. Having seen it, I can't quite understand what the fuss is about lounge access, but that's just my opinion.
OK, here is the contentious bit - reserved seating at the pool, theatre & ice-rink. Now we are not bothered either way if there is reserved seating or not, however if it is part of our suite package, of course we will use it. I would point out though that whilst there are approximately 80 suite guests, there are only 24 reserved pool chairs (originally 48), so it's not really that big a deal. At the pool reserved chairs were near the pool and bar area between decks 11 & 12. We sat there on the first morning in good weather, however mid-morning the signs were taken down from one side, reducing the number by 50%.
We received the following in the OS :-
Bottle of champagne on first formal night Chocolate covered strawberries on each formal night Cheese plate & fruit delivered twice Milk chocolates at night Towel animals every night 'Invitation' to preview 'Allure of the Seas' 'Invitation' to behind the scenes back stage tour (this was cancelled) 'Invitation' to Galley Tour (we didn't attend as we have been on one before)
Whilst we did not use the Concierge service a great deal, when we did we found them to be extremely helpful. Due to the seas being a bit choppy on the first sea day, DH asked, if the seas became worse could we borrow a wheelchair. They immediately had one delivered to our Suite for our sole use for the entire cruise! This worked brilliantly as quite honestly I would have struggled to get even as far as the end of the pier at any of the ports.
We had late seating at 8.30pm and were seated at a table of 8, all of whom were also English. We had many enjoyable evenings with our tablemates and on many occasions were one of the last to leave the dining room.
Overall we were pleased with the food in the MDR, we felt that the quality represented very good value for money, we have had better, however on those occasions we have paid substantially more for the experience. If we eat in a mid-priced restaurant at home, I do not expect Michelin Star standard food & service.
Our waiters were more than courteous and catered to everyone's specific requirements. On several occasions, DH ordered more than one entree as he simply couldn't decide between certain dishes and therefore would enjoy both. We have had more 'interactive' waiters on other cruises, however this in no way detracted from the experience.
The $14.95 Chops Steak was on the menu every night in the MDR, however EVERY night they also had at least one, if not two, other steak options. Towards the end of our cruise I decided to try the Chops Steak and it was absolutely beautiful and worth every cent. I have read that others believe it to be an offering that was in effect free before, however I have never had steak anywhere close to this quality in the MDR on any ship, on any line.
The buffet in WJ was more than adequate, however it did get somewhat boring as the majority of the food remained the same each day. The sushi in an evening is very good though and we would often have a few pieces an hour before dinner.
We did intend to try the MDR for lunch but never seemed to get around to it (our fault) and on the one day we did decide to go, it was closed. It did however have excellent reviews from our table companions.
We had booked Portofino's for the evening we would be in San Juan. The service and food was absolutely excellent, DH couldn't decide between the seafood skewer or the Filet mignon, so they simply brought him both. For the quality, we thought the additional charge of $20pp was more than reasonable.
We had lunch at Johnny Rockets and used our vouchers. It was just okay and I can see it appealing to children, but we didn't go again.
The Ship & Cruise
Absolutely gorgeous, as of course are all RCI ships. Although, large with many passengers, we never got the feeling of overcrowding, except on the sea-days by the pool, which is understandable.
We thought the ship to be in excellent condition, far more sprightly that some newer ships we have sailed on. Considering the amount of 'traffic' over a year that she has to cope with, some of which won't treat furniture etc with respect, we thought they have done a tremendous job at keeping her looking sparkling.
Absolutely no signs of any prop problem.
3 formal nights - 2nd, 7th & 11th night 3 Smart Casual nights 3rd, 8th, & 10th night 6 casual nights - all others
150 minutes WIFI package for $55. DH was however impressed with the speed as on previous cruises it had been much slower.
UK o2 mobile phones worked fine onboard, even on sea days (haven't had the bill though yet!!)
There were certainly less announcements than on previous RCI cruises which was a pleasant change.
My only real complaint is that I do wish they had some type of cover/padding on the sunloungers as I find the plastic to be really uncomfortable.
We had two $20 Wash & Fold, on days 5 & 9. The t-shirts were folded so well they didn't need ironing. W easily got 27 items in one bag, so it is good value for money. You get the clothing back 2 days later, although they did manage to lose a couple of pairs of underwear.
We had our fuel surcharge refunded at $44 per person in the form of OBC.
I was surprised at how many areas still allowed smoking (we don't smoke), such as the Port side of the pool & deck area, the casino, nightclub and some others. There was an ashtray on our balcony when we first got onboard but it was soon taken away. I think we noticed it more this time as since our last cruise there has been a total ban on smoking in indoor public places in the UK.
The first sea day, the seas were a bit choppy with 6-10ft swells and it was far too windy to venture outside, however this is what we expected. The M&M took place at 1.00pm and was very well attended.
This was the first formal night and I had booked a hair 'up-do' which cost $59, including the tip. The vast majority of passengers were dressed formally, with the majority of men in a Tux and majority of women in long dresses.
By the second sea day, the weather had improved, and the seas became calmer as the day progressed, although it was still quite windy.
The Ice-show 'Blades' took place this afternoon, which was extremely good. Very talented skaters, although we found the 'competition' to be a bit pointless.
We had a cabin crawl that day and luckily we got to see the Royal Suite which was beautiful.
We awoke to hot, glorious weather. As we were not due to arrive in San Juan until 3.00pm DH got up reasonably early (8ish) and went to the pool. Late morning DH went for a walk around deck and said there simply did not appear to be a sun lounger to be had, it really was busy. Pool attendants were very evident though, removing towels etc when chairs appeared to be vacant.
We actually arrived in San Juan a good 2 hours early. We went for a short walk (well DH did, I just sat in the chair!), however it wasn't the easiest of places to navigate with a wheelchair. For some reason, I wasn't really expecting much from this port, but it was actually quite nice.
We arrived at 8.00am and took a taxi/bus at a cost of $4 pp into town. Lovely town, but with 9/10 shops being jewelers, I really do not know how they all stay in business. Some jeweler shop people were actually quite aggressive when we wouldn't go in, but the majority were fine.
As it was Good Friday, we were informed that all the shops in town would be closed. The shops at the Pier were all open (of course!) but it was extremely hot so we were very soon back onboard.
Nothing much to see close to the dock - unless you have a tour booked, I would recommend not even getting off the ship. There were a few market stalls selling rubbish and we were really hassled.
Easter Sunday so all shops closed.
We took a local taxi to Mullins Beach which cost $40 each way. Absolutely gorgeous beach, very quiet, with just one really nice restaurant. When we arrived DH told the guys renting the sunloungers that he would like to waterski. They therefore telephoned their 'friend' who promptly brought a boat round , DH was delighted and the 20 mins cost him $60.
As this was Easter Monday, again all shops were closed.
This was our last port of call and in some ways when we left it did feel as if the cruise was over, even though we had 4 nights remaining.
We had originally been going to Tortola the following day, however that port had been cancelled several months prior.
Our first full day sailing North bound again. The weather was really hot all day and the pool-deck was extremely busy.
The second ice-show 'Seasons' was held at 5.00pm and was absolutely excellent, in fact we enjoyed it far more than the first show.
By the second sea day, the weather started off well and hot enough to sit outdoors, however as the day progressed the sun became cooler and the seas slightly higher.
I booked a Swedish massage for the last formal night which cost $119, plus tip. It was very good and she didn't try too hard to sell me any products!
The announcement from the Captain that day told us to expect rough seas during the early hours and into the next day as we would be entering a low pressure area. I take a Bonine every night as I am very prone to sea-sickness, however DH also took one that night as a precaution
True enough, on our last sea day we were rolling around. As predicted we started feeling it in the early hours and at the day's peak we had up to Force 11 winds and 30ft swells. According to the crew this was not 'normal' for this route, however as we know anything can happen at sea.
This was the only day onboard that we used the wheelchair as I really would have been a liability on my own 2 feet. We stayed in bed until late morning, feeling fine, however we then went up to Dizzys Bar on Deck 14 where you could really feel everything moving and not avoid looking at the rough seas, I then started to feel a bit queasy, so back to the cabin. I had to pack that afternoon and it wasn't a pleasant experience and I did keep having to stop.
The seas started to calm down by late afternoon and by dinner time we were in calm waters again.
We had an excellent final evening with our new friends, exchanging the usual email addresses so we can swap pictures etc.
Disembark - Cape Liberty
We had White luggage labels which meant we would be the first to disembark after the self-disembarkation. We didn't go to the lounge, we simply waited in our suite and sure enough by 8.30 we were able to leave. Even though it was a bit of a mad-house we were on our way within about 45 minutes.
We had decided to stay one night in NJ as the best British Airways return flight for us departed at 8.00am. We therefore stayed at The Elizabeth Courtyard Marriott which is across the road from Jersey Gardens Mall. The hotel was more than comfortable and at least with the mall being close by there was more to do than staying in one of the airport hotels. They also had a complementary shuttle service to the airport, which was only 2 miles away.
All in all we had a fantastic holiday, it was a shame that all the shops were closed in 3 of our 6 ports, but hey that's no-one fault, it was after all Easter.