Explorer of the Seas Thanksgiving Cruise (8 nights) Bayonne, Port Canaveral, Nassau, Cocoa Cay, Bayonne November 21-29, 2009
Let me start by saying that as this was my first RCCL cruise, it was a great cruise. Even with the slightly rough seas, on the return two sea days, the trip overall was excellent and well worth trying RCCL as past guest of Carnival.
I will preface my review by stating that I'm not going to (or try not to) compare RCCL and Carnival.
As mentioned in a previous thread, I made a reservation with Vista Parking (20 Frontage Road) for $82.80 total using a coupon off their internet site. You pay one days charge of $10.35 in advance to hold the reservation. We were in the area two hours early so I dropped off my party at the Sheraton Hotel on Frontage Road to wait for the pickup by Bayonne Taxi and Shuttle. The Vista Parking shuttle dropped me back off at the hotel, which is a few blocks from the hotel. Bayonne Taxi and Shuttle arrived at 11:30, and we had a total of eight people making the trip for the cruise. The rate was $15.00 per person. We found out while driving to the port that BT&S is used by RCCL for their transport service, which cost $27.00pp! We arrived at the entrance to the port in around 10 minutes. Then the line of cars waiting to get into the port took another 30 minutes or so
Upon approaching the van drop-off and embarkation area, it looks like mass confusion. The old buildings, tents, and shuttles caught me off guard. I was expecting a terminal like Miami or Port Canaveral. But looks can be deceiving. From the time we exited the shuttle, to check-in, to stopping for our departure photo, to catching the shuttle to the ship took all of 15 minutes. If all your paperwork is in order, the lines move very fast.
We entered the ship on deck #1, and took the elevators to Windjammers for lunch. There was large variety of items to select from, and everything was very well prepared and presented. It took me a couple of days to get use to the Windjammer waiters clearing the tables in a timely manner, and checking to see if you wanted a beverage refill. We were then off to check out the ship, when they announced the rooms were ready. Our balcony cabin, category D2 on deck seven was large enough for two or three people with plenty of closet and ample drawer space. The bathroom was the right size for what it's used for. The ship was in great shape, and the crew were always cleaning or repairing something. I really didn't notice anything really worn out or broken. After checking out the ship it was off to the muster drill (no life vests), which was painless, then off for sail-away on Decks 11 & 12. We checked out Dizzy's first, which is great for sail away or just relaxing and taking in the view. We then went outside just in time to pass under the Verrazano Bridge. The first day was spent checking out the rest of the ship, unpacking, and then dinner in Windjammer's.
The second day was spent lounging around the ship, hanging out in the library (one of my favorite places) and the hot tub. It was still a bit cool outside, so most of the time was spent participating in onboard activities. This was also the Captains Night and Formal Dinner, and everything went as expected with no problems or complaints.
The third day was warm (off the Carolina Coast), so most of the time was spent outside by the pool. Lunch and dinner was in Windjammers. Most of the time, if I wasn't participating in an onboard activity or hanging out in the library or pool, I was in Schooner's. Even though I never thought of myself as a piano bar type of person, this was one of the best spots on the ship. Schooner's was also the location for a lot of trivia games. I spent more time here than in my cabin! Steve, Milan, Kevin and the rest of the crew in Schooner's are great!!! You guys said not to miss the ice show and you were right. This was a very well choreographed, professional show! The skaters, costumes and skating rivaled anything I have seen by Disney on Ice, Nancy Kerrigan or Stars on Ice. I had tickets for the first show and waiting stand by for admission for the second Friday show. Yes, it was that good.
Day four we were in Port Canaveral and had great weather although it was cloudy most of the day. We spent the entire day in Magic Kingdom. The park was not really crowded. The one ride I did want to get on (Space Mountain) was down most of the day, even though it just had a multi-million dollar and a several month rehab. Fast Pass was a joke! We were in line at just after 9:00am, and the Fast Pass return time was already at 3:30-4:30pm. Needless to say we'd be gone by then. The parades, shows and music on Main Street have been updated to reflect the times and this generation, and there is entertainment in the streets (jump rope, hopscotch, hula hoops, hokey pokey dancing, etc.) with the kids to keep them entertained before the parades start. In Disney several us of noticed that the dancers and entertainers in the shows and parades were not the youthful teens that had been portrayed in the past. Several cast members could have easily been in their 30's and 40's! The Explorer only offered transport to the park ($33.00pp), and the normal price of the tickets would have cost $84.00 including taxes. This did save us around $20-$30 dollars from what cruise ships normally charge for this excursion.
Day five was in Nassau and the weather was beautiful, and not too warm. I guess all cruise lines have deals with Diamonds International. The area just outside the pier was a mix of the typical souvenir and craft shops. The main strip looks like Rodeo Drive with Gucci, Rolex and Fendi. We picked up a few things and stopped at a local place for lunch. After dropping our things off at the ship, we hopped in a taxi ($4.00) to Atlantis in Paradise Island. The place is gorgeous and the aquarium is a bonus. The money spent to view the full aquarium was worth it, along with getting to tour most of the exterior beach areas. The casino (slot machines) was very, very quite (hint, hint).
Day six was in Coco Cay which is a tender location. It was hot out on the beach. We spent most of the day lounging on the beach and splashing in the water before grabbing some of the BBQ, which was very good. We picked up more souvenirs in the craft shops and then headed back to the ship early. It was Thanksgiving, and I couldn't see how all those people were going to get back on the ship in time with three tenders, so we left around 3ish or so. Once back on board, we could see the wind and waves were kicking up a bit, so the Captain cancelled the remaining shore leave, as a majority of the passengers were still on the island. All made it back safely. Dinner was in the main dining room, with the Traditional Thanksgiving meal as one of the selections.
Day seven and eight, what can I say. The wind and waves begin to get stronger and you really felt the boat rocking. I did take Bonine on the first two days, and again today. I didn't get sick, but heard of several people who did. Most of the time was spent in the library, Schooners or Maharaja's playing trivia, bingo, karaoke or piano sing along. Lunch was in the dining room, and I should have eaten lunch in there every day. I also checked out the Chamber during the day for dancing lessons and at night for the music, which were both comparable to land based locations.
I forgot to mention that one of the crew had to be airlifted by the Coast Guard for emergency surgery, but is doing well now. This was one of the highlights of the cruise. You hear about it, but seeing it live is whole nother story.
Debarkation even though was well organized; something on the pier threw a monkey wrench in the timing of getting the passengers off in a timely manner. We (Purple Tag, #1) were supposed to meet in the DR and be off at 9:30-9:45, but were delayed by about an hour. Once our color and numbers were called we went down to deck one to disembark (a few minutes), waited on the shuttle to take us to the terminal (a few minutes), waiting to disembark the shuttles (ten minutes). Once in the terminal, we had our luggage and were through customs in less than five minutes.
The night before, I called Bayonne Taxi and Shuttle to confirm the pickup at the port, and they instructed me they had a Dispatcher and continual shuttles and taxis running from the port. After customs, we made our way to the taxi area, found the Dispatcher, and were loaded within 3 minutes. We had a 15 minutes wait, while they waiting for more passengers, but we pulled out with 4 people on board. The shuttle took 30 minutes or so to get back to the Sheraton due to a bridge opening in Bayonne/Jersey City. We were dropped back off at the Sheraton, and the Vista shuttle was there in 3 minutes once we called for a pickup.
The parking rate and transports was excellent overall. Even though we were a short drive from the port, it was worth not having to worry about if they would be painting this week or not.
As a note the rate to the pier was $15.00, while the return rate was $14.00. Taxi cab service would have cost $45.00 plus tolls, if we didn't want to wait for the shuttle to fill-up.
Overall this was the best cruise I have taken so far. The staff, service, food, activities and accommodations met or exceeded my expectations. The Ice Show along with Comedian Freddie Roman were the best entertainment acts onboard. The Royal Caribbean Dancers and Singers were good, but something was missing from their shows. I don't know if it was the theme, timing, choreography or songs. That is my only little peeve, which really didn't bother me as I sat through all of them, while some people left. The theater was not crowded on the nights I went either. I expected the weather to be cool with possible rough seas the first two and last two days, so this didn't bother me much. It was well worth not having to fly to Florida! I'm already looking into the Explorer for next summer. She'll be like brand new just coming out of dry dock in January. The eight night cruise was the perfect length. Even though we relaxed the first two days, by the time we reached Port Canaveral, we were more than ready for our first port of call. Nassau and Coco Cay were great ports of call as well.
Now I'm going to do what I said I wasn't going to do in the beginning.
Carnival being the "fun ship" has "fun" activities for the young and young at heart constantly. Notice I did not say partying. The Explorer had a much more "mature (and older)" crowd and "mature activities" even with the amount of children on board. The activities were structured more towards "mature" and "family oriented" cruisers. Having cruised both lines, now believe that when deciding on a vacation if I want to have "fun" I can choose Carnival, and when I want to relax and enjoy my vacation I can choose RCCL. There will be other factors to determine which line or ship I choose, but the next one will be on RCCL.
I forgot to sign up for the meet and mingle and once onboard didn't remember to inquire about it.