13 night southern cruise on the Ex!
This was our 16th cruise on the Explorer and 4th time on the southern itinerary which is our favorite itinerary.
We arrived at port around 12:30 and waited in traffic for about an hour which was unusual for that time frame but they were short of custom agents so it delayed departure on the cruise before us. Once we arrived inside the terminal we were on the ship in about 10 minutes.
We enjoyed our cruise on the Ex. very much like we always do but we did notice some differences from past cruises that were disappointing
We had Owners Suite 1608 which we've had before but this time it was not in the great condition as it had been in the past. The balcony paint was peeling badly, carpet coming up on edge and frayed, chipped furniture, no varnish at all on the railings and it just needs a dry dock which the ship will get in Jan. Others we knew on this cruise found cabins in similar condition and one couple did complain and their balcony was repainted but we did not want to be bothered with that during our cruise so we did not say anything to the crew.
New suite perks such as the spa robes and suite dining menus are a nice touch. Our steward was Ronnie and he was very good and of course our friend Edward was working just down the hall from our cabin and it's always good to see him and other crew we know! The ship does need a dry dock at this point if I compare its present condition to all our other cruises but the crew remains the best there is!
Our concierge was Kelly on this cruise and we can't say enough good things about her performance. In Dec. the CL was overcrowded and out of control. We had over 300 diamonds, 38 D pluses and all the suite guests on this 13 night cruise and both the CL and Cloud Nine were always under control and comfortable compared to how it was in Dec. when we had less Diamonds/Plus members onboard. Kelly is definitely a great asset to the Explorer and we hope she remains as concierge as she provides excellent service as well as managing the CL without issues that occurred in the past.
There has been a big change in the food since Dec. also. Geletin seemed to be added to most of the desserts as a cheap filler, selections were repeated several times such as turkey ( which was good! ) appeared 4 days in a row in the WJ, but overall very poor quality food with little to no seasoning on this cruise. Breakfast remained good as did the fresh fruit and salads. Lunch and dinner were very disappointing compared to our other cruises on the Ex is the past. On our last night they had BBQ chicken in the WJ which they always do well. This time the chicken was loaded with pin feathers which was unacceptable and the last straw for us for the food. We've read about various cutbacks on RCCL on CC and it was obvious that there has been cutback in the food quality on the Ex.
JR's was disappointing on this cruise also and it had been very good in Dec. Cheaper beef led to very greasy hamburgers although the milk shakes were still very good!
We dined in Portifino several times and that remains very good and quality food is still found there. Service in all dining areas remain excellent, the issue for us was the food itself.
In the past the A/C on the ship has always been good but we did not find it to be the case this time. There were days/nights in the Caribbean that were uncomfortable in our cabin and in most public areas so that was another change from the past.
The Ex. did not receive their liquor and cig order in Bayonne before our cruise so were limited on stock. People were disappointed they could not find their favorite brands that are normally on the EX. and we were directed to shop in port for liquor. I always buy Sheridans for gifts back home and they did not have any Sheridans at all this time as they did not receive it. We buy any other liquor in Dominica as they have the best liquor prices in the Southern Caribbean in our experience but it is nice to get liquor gift items on the ship as they box them well but missed that on this cruise and I've never sailed on the Ex. when they did not have a full stock so it was unusual.
As for the ports they were wonderful as always! We were blessed with good weather and smooth sailing on this cruise also and arrived in ports early or on time with no problems.
In Barbados we headed to our favorite place the Barbados Hilton for the day and enjoyed a good lunch poolside and gorgeous pools and silky white sand beach.
In Antigua we went to Dickensen beach and had a wonderful BBQ right on the beach, excellent music, warm calm water and silky sand and sun made for the perfect beach day in Antigua!
In Dominica we just shopped a bit as it was overcast and very hot and humid that day so returned to the ship early to relax as we've been there a couple times before.
In St. Thomas we did our usual shopping in Havensight and avoided the Carnival that was going on in town.
In St. Maarten we went to the boardwalk beach and enjoyed a beautiful sunny beach day with lunch and cold drinks on the beach and avoided the crowds from the Carnival that day also! We've been on the islands for the Carnivals in the past so skipped them this time.
The highlight of this cruise was the Fanta Sea Catamaran snorkle cruise in St. Kitt's. We were on a gorgeous 78 ft. Cat. with a crew of 6-7 people that waited on everyone throughout the tour which was 6 hours. Open bar serving soft drinks and rum drinks and snacks was available the entire time although they would not let people have alcohol until after our snorkel stop which was smart. It really was a beautiful sunny day and when they hoisted those big sails that cat was flying and great music was playing!! They stopped to let everyone snorkel, provided excellent instruction, all equipment and it was suitable for both beginners and seasoned and they really wached over everyone and provided assistence the entire time. Next we sailed to a beach where a private BBQ had been set up for us at a resturant on the beach and again open bar with rum and soft drinks. Food was excellent and so was the service. We then found comfy waterside chairs and went for a swim and relaxed on the beach before returning to the Cat for the sail home. It was by far the best excursion we've ever done and everyone onboard with us had a great time and we would do that excursion again in a heartbeat! It was 119.00 a person and we rated it as priceless! Afterwards we did a little shopping in town as we walked back to the ship from the dock. When in San Juan we just remained on the ship and relaxed as we've been there many times in the past.
We had 3 relaxing sea days on the way back home and we had the Plat/Diamond/Plus party on one of those nights and they split it into two times as we had 720 C & A members altogether onboard. I was presented with a crystal Explorer during the party for reaching over 30 cruise credits. There were several other members as well that received them and they had a nice buffet with music and drinks so it was a nice party. We also had a nice D plus luncheon on the way to the Caribbean in the beginning of the cruise and this is a nice thing the Ex. does for the D plus members onboard.
Overall we had a wonderful cruise as always but it's doubtful we will return to the Ex. until after dry dock at this point and will cruise the QM2 instead this fall and winter. We are looking forward to seeing a NEW Explorer next year and we do have the new Bermuda/Bahama initerary May 2010 cruise booked on it!
For any smokers ( or non smokers) that may read this review smoking has been very limited to areas you can smoke inside the ship. The Chamber, the Golf Bar and the Cigar Bar as the only areas inside besides the Casino on non formal nights. You may still smoke on your balconys and on starboard side open decks and at outside pool bars weather permitting. Smoking areas inside the ship had been reduced even more since Dec. and the change caught many by surprise and I heard many people say they will no longer sail the Ex. because of the change as they are now excluded from enjoying live entertainment. This is a touchy subject on CC and normally not brought up in a review by me but the issue regarding this topic is that the Ex. sails in cold weather a good part of the year and people feel there should be more indoor areas available as it's too cold to stand outside on open decks or balconys in cold weather on the Ex. On ships sailing in wamer climates year round, very limited indoor smoking areas does not present a problem as it does on the Ex. Smokers may now want to consider another cruiseline out of NY at this point especially for winter sailings.
I'd like to add that food is very subjective and people like different things. My opinion of the food on this cruise is based on comparisons from past cruises on the EX. I suggest everyone try all dining options themselves and form their own opinions as the food may appeal to others. We do not cruise for the food as there are so many other things to enjoy on the ship! We are looking forward to our Bermuda/Bahama cruise in May next year on the Ex!