Explorer of the Seas Cruise Review by transam84: Nice Ship, but My Time Dining Not Ready for Prime Time
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Nice Ship, but My Time Dining Not Ready for Prime Time
I'm going to write this as part chronology, but mostly a summary, the mix just seems to work better for me. I'm sorry it is so long. I like to be detailed. I'd like to start by giving a little background. We live in central NJ. This is my 8th cruise, 6th with RCCL. I am 50 years old, but very thin and athletic and I watch what I eat most of the time, but eat whatever I want on a cruise. I have traveled extensively for business and pleasure. I go on at least 1 major vacation a year with my DS and DH and 1 with my DM. I consistently get suites. This is my 3rd Voyager class and 4th GS. Next year I have the RS reserved (may cancel due to a bit of an issue with RCCL this time, hence the reason I'm giving some background). I gave this cruise a 3 because My Time would be a 0 and the other things a 4, so I just averaged the rating. My first RCCL cruise was on Voyager, when megaships were just coming into their own. It was such an amazing experience; I was hooked on RCCL and have not strayed More
since. I am going to hold back nothing, so please take this with a grain of salt, it is my opinion and experience only and everyone is different. I will give all the very positives and negatives of this cruise from my viewpoint just for complete disclosure not to simply complain. Since my DS just came off the Carnival Valor, I will also note some of his observations.
Preparation: Very excited about not having to fly to the ship. As noted, we travel a lot and are very tired of the luggage restrictions. The 50 lb limit per bag is simply absurd. I don't travel light and even when we traveled 1st class to Hawaii in May it was a hassle since we still had the 50lb limit. We just couldn't get around it and I'm tired of it. So, this time I felt liberated. I over packed and threw in a bunch of extra shoes into the suitcase simply because I could. Shoes are the biggest culprit we found that adds to the weight. My DS just went on a Carnival cruise out of Miami and we had to put all his shoes crammed into his back pack. His suitcase was exactly 50lbs!
Bayonne/Arrival: OK, so traveling from NJ is nice. We only live about ½ hour from Bayonne, right up the Turnpike. My DH drove my DM and me to the port. We left about 10:30AM and after a quick stop at the supermarket for something I forgot, we arrived in Bayonne about 11:15AM. The line was out to the entrance the port. It moved at a snail's pace and it took us an hour to get to the ship. My first reaction, this port is Ugly! I am used to the lovely Florida ports; even Puerto Rico was very nice. OK, so we're in NJ, I got over it. Then we get to the ship and I notice the ship is about ½ mile from the check in area. Interesting I thought. Then I see Rutgers campus buses shuttling people to the ship. This is very funny for me since I'm going to Rutgers for my PhD and I'm there all the time and never take the bus, now on vacation I'm taking my "school bus". We drop off the luggage in the tent like area and proceed quickly to the check in. Not at all pretty like in FL but at least it seems efficient. We have a suite so proceed to the suite counter. It goes very fast and we quickly are ready to take our welcome aboard picture. In this case there is a brick wall behind us rather than the usual ship background or ship entrance. OK, so I get past this too, not a big deal. Just noting for complete disclosure. Then we walk to the ship and embark on the 1st floor. Again ugly. I have always boarded on deck 5.
Windjammer/Island Grill/Johnny Rockets/Cafe Promenade: It is 1:00PM so we head to the Windjammer as usual until the cabins are ready. The Windjammer is exactly the same as on the other ships. Same set up same food. I think the Windjammer is laid out very well, as is the entire ship. My DS just came off Carnival Valor and he said their buffet, although better the RCCL in some ways is laid out terribly. There are plenty of choices in the Windjammer for both breakfast and lunch that should satisfy most people. The food is fresh. There are only a couple of negatives in my opinion. There are no made to order deli or grill stations on RCCL. My DS (who also has been on RCCL many times) says that the Carnival made to order deli and grill stations are wonderful. I like a sandwich for lunch and after a couple of days the same selection of pre-made tuna, turkey, ham and cheese sandwiches and veggie wrap it gets boring. They are also rather skimpy sandwiches. Yeah I could take multiples, but then I would have take them apart and put all the fixings' on one since I don't want all the bread. Also, I don't like having the pre-made hamburgers sitting in a pan rather than made fresh. Although there were quite a few desserts, I often could not find anything I liked on this cruise. I am a dessert person, but the desserts this time just did not seem that good to me, except for the standard cookies which are always yummy. Just my opinion and in the scheme not a big deal. Overall, I do think the Windjammer is pretty good. We did go to Johnny Rockets, since I like fresh hamburgers and that was good, but there is a small charge. I often could not find paper cups in the Windjammer and so had to go the Cafe Promenade to get a paper cup with lid to take to the pool. The Cafe Promenade always seemed to out of coffee. This is a first in my experience. Portofino: This restaurant is a real stand out and well worth the small charge. The food is wonderful and the presentation of the food and staff are top notch. I would highly recommend one meal at Portofino.
Cabin/GS 1574: At 1:30pm the cabins were ready and off we went. The GS looked exactly like every other one I have had. It is very nice, large with plenty of storage. We did not even need the 3rd closet for a 5 day cruise and I pack heavy. The bathroom is also nice and the balcony a good size. There are still the "old tube" TVs which I suspect will be replaced when it goes to dry dock. The only very minor complaint was that there was a strange smell next to the bed in this room that I could not seem to get rid of the entire cruise. This is the first time I have ever experience an unpleasant odor on a RCCL ship. Otherwise the cabin was in very good condition. Akil our cabin steward made me lots of towel animals, was very pleasant and kept the cabin in good order. Oh, I forgot to mention, the view from our cabin was amazing. We looked right out to the Statue of Liberty. This made up for the ugly port coming in! Location was right between two elevator areas. I was initially not happy about having to walk a bit from either one, but it turned out better. If I wanted to go the spa I went up the front one, the windjammer up the back. So I did not have to traverse the length of the ship for one or the other. Muster Drill: The muster drill occurred about 4:00 PM. Hooray we did not need to bring our life jackets! It was done well and was over quickly. When we got back to the cabin the luggage was there and I began to unpack.
Sail Away: Before I knew it we were sailing a little after 4:30PM. I ran up to the top deck for sail away. This was incredible. Going under the Verrazano Bridge was amazing. This is a bridge that I spent my childhood crossing from the top to visit my grandparents in Brooklyn. Seeing it from the bottom perspective was amazing. We were told we clear by 9 feet, but coming up to it seems like we are going to touch. The weather was great and I got fabulous pictures! I got so taken up by sail away I missed the cruise critic informal meet and mingle, sorry about that.
Dining Room/My Time Dining: The dining room is laid out the same as the other Voyager class ships so it was no surprise. I decided to try My Time dining this time and this was a major mistake. It is absolutely horrible and very badly executed by RCCL in my opinion. The reservation staff also handle it very badly. The way I was treated and this experience may actually cause me to stray from RCCL. Again, just my personal experience and everyone is different. On the My Time notice it says "reservations recommended", HA! The first night we are told since we didn't have a reservation we may have to sit with other couples. I am totally fine with this, since I love to socialize on a cruise and actually prefer sitting with others. We are seated with two lovely couples and hit it off right away. Another minor complaint is the fact the RCCL has virtually the same menus on every ship year after year. The choices were almost exactly the same as I had on Enchantment a year ago. I am a bit picky and so I end up with the same things all the time on every cruise. The food is fresh and tasty, but I'm just a bit bored with the same choices. As with the Windjammer, for some reason I just was not impressed with the desserts this time. I think they were basically the same as in the past, but nothing appealed to me. We made our dining room reservation for the next two nights and got a table for two both, which was also fine. The third night we went to Portofino and that day my mom was not feeling well so I forgot to make a dining room reservation for the following night. I was also out most of the day and there are only a couple of hours in the morning and a couple in the afternoon when the reservation stand is open. I could have gone to the concierge, but I forgot (my bad, twice). So, on the last sea day I went to the stand at 2:30pm to make my reservation and I was rudely told it was not open yet to come back in 5 minutes. I walked down the promenade and then went back. I asked for a reservation between 6:00 and 7:00pm. I was rudely told that he had nothing available until 8:30PM and I was reprimanded and told I was supposed to make reservations the prior day. I explained I forgot, that my mom was not well and she can eat so late. He waved his hand over the reservations list and again explained he could not help me. I again explained about my mom and that I was a suite guest and platinum (soon to be diamond member). I hate to throw this kind of stuff around, it embarrasses me to appear I think I'm special or something, but I just could eat that late and I did not want to go to the buffet. Since the concierge was in until 5 pm, I went to guest services. I explained my issue and the "girl" behind the counter shrugged and told me she could not help me. So, off I went to Portofino (did not feel like another fancy meal there, but did not know what else to do). I was told they had absolutely nothing for that night but he could wait list me. I explained that I thought suite guest were supposed to have priority reservations for Portofino and he basically stammered some sort of incoherent answer. I left disgusted. So, we decided to go to Johnny Rockets for our final dinner. I did not care that much about the food, just the way I was treated. So, although I love RCCL and have had almost no bad experiences in the past, I'm considering cancelling the RS for next year and switching cruise lines. Overall the wait staff was very nice and professional even with My Time, so that was a positive. I contacted my travel agent with the issue and she forwarded it to RCCL. Concierge: Ricardo is my all time favorite concierge. He is so warm and genuine. This was the best run concierge lounge in my experience. Ricardo said he could help with the dining issue, but at that point (it was 5:00PM), I was so frustrated, I just wanted to eat at Johnny Rockets.
Shows: The comedians were ok and the shows were ok. I guess since this was a short cruise I was not as impressed with the shows as with the other cruises. I also think RCCL needs to get rid of the 10 silliest questions on the last day. I have heard it 6 times now and it is boring. I think over half the people are probably repeats; I would think it must be getting boring to most repeats. Or at the least come up with a new set of questions. The Ice Show was terrific as usual and a real highlight. I got some awesome pictures. Bermuda/Tours: This is a beautiful island. The scenery is breathtaking. We did the Tea and Tales tour which was lovely. I also went to Horse shoe Bay, it is very pretty. I think the ship tour to Horseshoe Bay was too short (only 2 hours on beach). I think I would just take a cab or a bus next time. The Dockyard is lovely but I think I would have preferred docking in Hamilton. There is limited shopping right at the Dockyard. We could have taken a cab or bus to Hamilton, but it would have been nice to spend time on both sides of the island.
Pools: I think RCCL has it right. The pools are a nice size on these ships and even on sea days, it's crowded but not unbearable. My DS said the Carnival pools are like bath tub size and on sea days people are packed in like sardines. Also, I found there were enough beach chairs, on sea days I did have to get there early to get a chair up front on the main pool deck, but there were lots to be had further away. I only a few issues with the saving of lounge chairs and people grumbling about it. I do think a big pool slide would be nice for the older kids. My DS said the Carnival slide was a lot of fun.
Overall: The ship is in great condition. They are always cleaning and fixing. The pools are wonderful. The ship is laid out very well and is easy to navigate. The elevators are slow and frustrating; I think RCCL needs more elevators on their ships. The food is good quality and plentiful. Portofino is fabulous. The cabins are large with plenty of storage. My Time Dining is horrible, and I don't think it is ready for "prime time" yet. It is handled terribly. Other than My Time the cruise was overall nice. Sorry for the long review. I'm going to post the exact thing in both reviews and forums, so don't waste time reading both. Here is a link to my pictures: http://travel.webshots.com/album/574242059xkUjvF Less
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Cabin review: GS1574 Grand Suite
This is my 4th GS. I love this category. It is spacious with plenty of storage. My only minor complaint was that for the first time on a RCCL ship, there was strange smell next to the bed in this cabin. I could not get rid of it and even tried spraying perfume. It lingered the entire cruise. Otherwise the cabin was clean and well maintained. The old tube TV looks out of date.