Just returned home this morning following the September 26th five-day out of Bayonne to Bermuda. This was our fourth cruise, and our second on the Explorer of the Seas. This was also our second cruise to Bermuda, as we had sailed the Voyager on the same itinerary in 2005. For this cruise, we booked two balcony cabins; an E2 # 7322 for DH and myself, and a D3 # 6336 for DS and his friend (both 22 years old). We celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary. We had a great cruise in spite of the high winds that plagued us throughout the two full sea days; Day 2 being much worse than Day 4. Weather in Bermuda was warm and mostly sunny, with a few scattered showers. Sorry if I go long here...
Arriving: We live about 20 minutes west of Bayonne, and arrived at the pier a little after 10 AM. We had a brief wait (about 5 minutes) as we waited to approach the terminal to drop off our luggage, then entered the parking lot with no wait whatsoever, parked the car, and carried our hand luggage into the terminal.
Embarkation: Check-in went smoothly. We had our Set Sail passes, passports, and credit cards ready. After receiving our Sea Passes, along with completion of an H1N1 questionnaire, we entered the waiting area by 10:30, helping ourselves to cookies and coffee. Lemonade and ice water were offered, but no hot tea was available. (I survived that little issue). Our group was amongst the second shuttle busload to the ship, and we were on board by 12: 30 or so. Once on board, we headed to the Windjammer for lunch, and then checked out our MDR table assignment. We were able to enter our cabins after 1:30 PM, as expected. All of our checked baggage arrived to our rooms before dinnertime.
Cabin Accommodations: Our E2 cabin was 7322, on the hump and directly across from the elevators, and the location was incredibly convenient, being close to both elevators and stairs. There were no noise issues at all in being so close to the elevators . An additional plus was having the library nearby, which is one of the designated WiFi hot spots on the ship. We are lowly Gold members, but did receive a book of coupons, some of which we happily used.
I will mention that the bed was extremely comfortable, and the bed linens were luxuriously soft. DS had a D3, and it had two discernible differences from our E2 cabin: the D3 had a three-cushion loveseat (the E2 had seating for two), and the D3 had a solid rather than glass panel on the balcony. Our cabin steward, Gerald, was efficient and courteous, keeping our ice-bucket full, providing extra towels, and scouting up a feather pillow for me. The overall condition of the cabins was good; but it's definitely time for a refurb.Old-fashioned tube TVs, and the worn flooring on the balcony come to mind.
Service: The RCI staff is, for the majority, a friendly group, providing excellent customer service. We liked that the staff were also friendly towards each other, since to me, that indicates a relatively positive work environment, which filters down to us customers, and that makes for a more relaxing cruise experience. Table service, room service, Guest Services were all excellent.
Food: OK, a big topic for many of us. We did not have one bad meal; in fact, our meals overall ranged from very good to excellent. We have only ever cruised RCI, so don't have anything to compare it to, but we do enjoy all kinds of food and are not picky eaters by any means. We met a few couples who had previously sailed Carnival, and they swore that Carnival's food was superior to that of RCI, and felt that RCI food was "horrible". We did not feel that way at all. If an offering on the buffet looked horrible to my taste, well, I didn't put it on my plate. There were plenty of offerings that both looked, and tasted good.
Windjammer: Breakfast buffets were our favorites; we found everything we liked, from eggs cooked to order, to asian offerings of miso and congee soups with all the accompaniments. My own favorites include the thickly-sliced raisin bread, oatmeal, and carved ham slices. DH and DS piled on the bacon. Fresh-cut fruit included melons and pineapples, but I was disappointed to note that there were no grapefruit or orange sections offered as on previous cruises. Windjammer lunches included many good choices, both hot and cold. Some stew-type offerings looked less than appetizing, but that's just my taste. The sushi was excellent, beautifully presented, and very popular. It was replenished promptly by the staff. I did try the honey-stung chicken; it was tasty and crispy. I think the trick is to get to it before it sits out for too long.
Room Service: We used RCI room service for the first time this cruise. On Day 1, we ordered a mid-afternoon snack, including chicken wings and a chili-chorizo dip served with tortilla chips. They were both good, but be aware that the portions are on the small size. If you love wings, you may want to order a double portion, since one order only gives you four wings. We pre-ordered coffee and tea delivery to our room for each morning; this also helped provide a wake-up call, since the kitchen calls about five minute's prior to the waiter's arrival with our tray. Trays left out in the hall for pickup were tended to promptly.
Dinner: We stuck with traditional dining, and had the second seating in the Digama dining room. Our table was near the rail directly opposite the main doors to the dining room, with an excellent view of the captain's table and grand staircase. Our waiter Marlon was excellent, making a point to remember each diner's name and general preferences. Our preferred drinks were always delivered timely, and I found our serving team to be well-organized, and attentive. We were fortunate to have excellent table mates, who were friendly, well-traveled, and all-around good company. Meal offerings were familiar, but generally very good. We especially loved the lamb shanks, salmon, prime rib, beef tenderloin, and lobster tails. We did dine at Portofinos, and each ordered the filet mignon, which was one of the best I have ever had. We felt the meal was well-worth the extra fee. If I have any complaint about the food, it would concern the sameness of the menu; while the offerings were very good to excellent, it would be nice to see some new choices on the menu.
Cafe Promenade/Johnny Rockets: Again, similar offerings from previous cruises; pizza, small sandwiches, pastries, and fresh fruit. DH and DS love Johnny Rockets for burgers and onion rings; we used a two-for-one coupon for milkshakes from our Gold Member booklet.
Entertainment: Overall the entertainment was very good, with the ice show standing out as the highlight for us. The production shows displayed great talent and energy, but were a bit frantic for our tastes. We did not attend all of the shows. The orchestra was excellent. Piano bar entertainment in the Schooner Bar was fun, and the Latin ensemble was very good. Comedian Al Katz was worth a trip to the Palace. Vibes, the reggae bar over at the main pool set the mood nicely.
The Quest game was, well, like always--hilarious. I will only add that DS's traveling mate ended up front and center in the Quest portion of the cruise review DVD, and other pax all over the ship kept approaching him to offer congratulations, ribbing, and general razzing for his performance.
Bermuda--First Port Day: Getting off the ship was a simple and organized affair. Just needed to bring along your sea pass and photo ID. Since we had cruised to Bermuda before, we wanted to be sure to hit some of the sights that we missed first time around. One and a half days in Bermuda is not nearly enough time to explore this beautiful and historic island; we'll just have to go back again!
The boys really wanted to jetski, so we walked over to Snorkel Park, which is right on King's Wharf. Snorkel Park is not what I'd call beautiful, but the gorgeous blue ocean of Bermuda is part of it, making it a pretty good spot for what the boys wanted. The jetski rental was $ 135 for an hour, which the boys split. They were escorted by a staff member, and went a good distance and had a blast! The convenience of being in walking distance from the ship made it a good choice. I understand that Snorkel Park has recently changed ownership, so I'd say it is in a transitional stage. We were greeted by the crowing of a rooster when we entered, and the frequently-seen families of chickens were present. There was a bar and restaurant, snorkel gear and chair rentals, and laid back, friendly service. The boys went to their beach party the first night, and said that it was pretty good.
While they were at Snorkel park, DH and I visited the Maritime Museum, which we loved. It is located within a fort, providing great views, historical artifacts, and interesting exhibits on slavery, WWII involvement, British and American military presence, and history of Bermuda. Entry fee was $10, but sea pass holders received a $2 discount each. The museum consists of several building with well-presented exhibits, and outdoor walks along the perimeter of the fort with fabulous photo ops here. Also here was a dolphin experience, which I am sure is how they get the lions share of their financial support.
The day was warm and sunny, a welcomed contrast from the wild wind of yesterday's sea day. For this reason, we canceled our tea reservations at the Fairmont Hamilton, and spent a relaxing day at the ship's pools. I know, I know, there are fabulous beaches that we could have visited in its place, but our goal was relaxation and a minimum of logistical concerns. This worked great for DH and myself, splitting time between the solarium and the main pools and hot tubs.
The Dockyard has been beautifully developed since our last cruise to Bermuda in 2005. Lots of craft shops, restaurants, and nice strolling promenades. There was constant work on the pier during the day, including pile driving, which was noisy if your balcony was on the port side of the ship.
We approached a taxi dispatcher to scope out our next day's activity, which would be a tour of the island. His advice was to get to the taxi stand early and hire a qualified Bermuda Tour guide, so next morning, we did just that. The qualified guides display a qualified logo in the windshield. We hired a taxi operated by Dennis Hollis, and he provided us with an excellent three-hour tour of Bermuda, including stops for photo ops, shopping, brief visits to interesting sites, and general friendly and informative details on the flora, fauna, and history of Bermuda. The ship's excursion charged $46 per person for the same tour; the four of us paid $40/hour total, which is the official rate. So, for $120 plus tip, we felt we got a good deal. This was an excellent tour, and we highly recommend it. We were returned to the dock yards, scoped out some of the shops there. We went through a security check, and avoided a brief rain shower, which commenced nearly the moment that we boarded.
Bermuda is a simply gorgeous island, and we hope to return there in the future.
Day 5 sea day was again on the windy side, but allowed for some sun bathing and outdoor relaxation. Packing up again was depressing! Went to the Farewell show, and made some last-minute purchases in the shops. Had surf and turf for dinner, with seconds and thirds on lobster tails for those who requested them! We distributed our tips, and also tipped the Maitre 'd, since he made himself visible and extended assistance during our meals.
Woke up in beautiful Bayonne. We were in the Yellow group (8:15 to 8:30) for disembarkation, so we hit the Windjammer for our last breakfast at 7:30 A. The elevators were crazy full, but things smoothed out once the express disembarkation folks were done with. I did not envy those dragging ALL of their luggage into the elevators, and frequently, down multiple flights of stairs to get off the ship. Just not worth it, in my opinion, unless you have some early transportation concerns. Our group was promptly called at 8:15, and we were through customs, picked up our luggage, and on the road in our car by 8:45 am! It was a breeze.
So that's most of it. We'd do it again in a heartbeat. Thanks, everyone here at Cruise critic for your wisdom and help!