I recently went on the 12 day explorer of the seas trip out of Bayonne NJ on Jan 24th 2010. Just for some background on my travel mates and myself there were 5 of us total, 3 males between 27 and 30 and a couple in the mid 40's, I am the 27 year old male in the group. The boat arrived slightly late on the 24th but we had no problems getting on. The car line was non existent when we arrived at the pier around 2pm. Drove right up, dropped off the luggage with a porter and off we went. We stood on a semi long line to get through the metal detectors but that was mainly due to people having to walk through them 2-3 times each. You would think people would be smart enough to remove all the metal objects from their pockets prior to reaching the front of the line but unfortunately this isn't the case. I am platinum and the priority check in was a breeze. Walk up hand over docs, credit card, and passport and away you go. Take a picture for your seapass and you're done. Walked directly onto the next bus and away we went to the ship. Overall it was a very good experience.
We headed straight to the sports bar because the jets were set to kick off at 3. The satellite dropped in and out throughout the game so we missed a good portion of it. The weather in NJ that day was very overcast. The service at the tables in the bar was lacking, they rarely came around and asked if you needed another drink and it took them a long time to get back with the drinks. I found it easier to walk to the bar.
Muster was at 5 (I think) and honestly it takes 10 times longer then it should. Walk to the muster, stand in line, wait for the announcements in 12 different languages and then they teach you how to put on a life vest. Honestly if you can't get the life vest on without instructions I really don't want you in my life boat. Anyway, once that was over it was back to the room. Most of our bags already arrived and we unpacked and settled in. We (the 3 guys) were in an E1 balcony, the couple was down the hall in an inside room. First time in a balcony and I loved it. Nice to have our own space to enjoy the outdoors. We had a corner aft so the balcony was huge.
We hit really bad weather coming out of NJ so the ship was a bit of a ghost ship the first full sea day. The captain later mentioned we were sailing into a 72 mph wind which explained the motion. It bothered me a little but it might have been the half dozen long island ice teas the night prior that had me feeling odd. They do make a great LI tea on board. Second sea day was overcast but a comfortable temperature so we spent the day on the balcony playing card. It was a great way to slow down and get used to cruise life.
I am going to jump all over the place from here on out as thoughts pop into my head. The islands were all very nice, St Thomas and St Marten we shopped then hit Meghan's bay and Orient Beach respectively. Both are pretty and semi crowded. Liquor prices have gone up but still better then what I get at home (NJ). Next was Dominica and that was beautiful, lots of green scenery. We did the wacky river tubing tour. I really enjoyed it. Mainly you float down the river with a paddle, helmet and tube. Some people paddled along but I am on vacation so I let the current do my paddling. The staff keeps you on course and out of any dangerous areas. I think it was $60 and well worth it. We all had a good time. In Barbados we were told to go to the Boatyard. It's a $4 cab ride a person and $10 to get in but that includes a free drink, admission and taxi ride back to the ship. The drinks were good there and we saw lots of crew hanging out there as well, would definitely go back there. Antigua we did the pirates of Antigua pirate ship (aka booze cruise). We had a total blast drinking and dancing and partying on the ship. This is our second time on this trip and we will be back again next time I am in Antigua. San Juan I stayed on the boat and slept, just because I needed the sleep and we were leaving early from SJ.
The weather while at the islands was great. We had a little rain in Antigua but it was warm and over in 10 minutes.
As for the ship itself and the service it varied. I am not the type person to notice or care about minor things, such as stains on a rug, or a ding in the paint but since dry dock was such a huge topic on these boards I decided to pay attention to it on this cruise. They redid the pool and there is lots of new carpet. I did notice some paint chips in spots but overall the ship looks amazing and if you aren't overanalyzing things I doubt you will notice the minor blemishes.
The dining room was a mixed emotions place for me. The food was good, not amazing but very good. The buttermilk chicken is amazing and the steak dishes were good as well. The one thing I hated was, each night they had a steak dish on the menu, most nights it was only offered medium rare or medium well. I am a medium rare person so I wasn't too bothered but I didn't like knowing that on the "steak of the day" I was limited to 2 choices of temperature. Also I found the medium rare to be a little too rare at times. I think it just depended on the piece of meat you got, I only had that problem once and my tablemates ordered the same plate and got there's perfect. I don't eat it but my travel mates complained that the fish wasn't very good, most nights they said it was salty or dry. The other consistent complaint was the Caesar salad was watery. I definitely never went hungry and in 90% of the dishes the food was very tasty. I enjoyed the dining room a lot and went every night but 1.
The service in the dining room was adequate. On my last cruise I was seated with the #1 waiter/asst waiter on the entire ship. I had a friend working onboard and she hooked me up with this great service. That being said the service on this cruise was good but not the cream of the crop. Last trip I felt like there was 20 people serving my table when there was only 2. On this cruise you could tell our staff was very focused on one task at a time. It was water time, or clearing dishes time, or serving time, or bread time but I just got the feeling they couldn't multitask. However I have to give them credit they did put up with our BS and that is something to be commended for. Our head waiter did come by every night and helped out where needed.
To continue on the food trend, windjammer was good. Its buffet food and I never struggled to find a plate or 2 or 3 of food I wanted to eat. Fries are excellent and I enjoy the afternoon snack of nachos, tacos, hot dogs, burgers etc. Promenade sandwiches are excellent, pizza is ehh, and room service is good. They did mix things up and do a pool side BBQ as well as lunch on the promenade one day. Both were good and I liked the change in venue. Breaks things up a bit.
Casino, opening and willing to take donations! I had a great time in the casino and the staff was a blast, Jess, Daniel, Graeme, and Catherine were always fun to play with and talk too. I lost money and still had a blast playing so you know the staff had to be good. They got rid of the poker pro tables (thank god) and replaced them with a live dealer. The rake is still way to high, 10% max $10. Some of the dealers you can tell aren't used to the game. It took them a while to determine what each player had, some of them you can tell are very comfortable with the game and have total control. Some nights the waiting list was 10 players or so, I wish they had a second table. The poker tournament moves WAY to fast. Essentially you need to hit a big hand in the first 10 hands or you are out.
Alcohol, again a heavily discussed topic on this board so I did extensive research on the topic while on board and my final analysis is.......alcohol is good! We weren't walking around drunk all day but we definitely tried our fair share of beverages over the 12 days. The drinks were reasonably priced $6.33 I believe for a jack and coke, 7&7, captain and coke, etc (tip included), 5.95 for the drink of the day(plus tip), and even the pricy stuff like ultimate margaritas and martini's etc were 8-9 bucks(plus tip). This is about standard for the area I live in. Some servers are very heavy handed, learn who they are and order from them. As previously mentioned the LI teas are very very good. Very strong but taste good. I don't drink wine champagne etc. Beer I believe 4.75 for the usual stuff (bud miller coors etc) and 5.25 for "imports". Or maybe it was 4.25 and 4.75, I don't exactly remember but its one of the two. They will do buckets but you pay for every beer. If you are on board tell Dwayne or Olena that I said hello.
Cruise director staff, honestly very disappointing. They were at the events that they needed to be at but then they vanished. Very rarely could they be spotted at the casino, or the night club etc. I was very disappointed they weren't out and about more but oh well. Also they did the quest and battle of the sexes on the same night in a half hour each. I hated that, it was so rushed and both are normally really fun and entertaining events. Overall I thought they did very little for the group of people that wanted to get out party and laugh. It was like they were operating on a script and they couldn't be derailed. I spoke to a few of them about it the last night and they gave us a few explanations, mostly they blamed management and I could understand it because both Nikki numbers (event management) and Jimmy (cruise director) seemed very uptight. Hopefully when I go back in April they will have it all worked out. Oddest part about them, during the quest, at the end during the part we all laugh about (trying not to ruin it for those that haven't been to one) they allowed a young boy probably 8-10 years old to participate. In my mind that was totally uncalled for and he shouldn't have been allowed at an adult only game show let alone allowed to participate. From what I heard from the crew about this if the hotel manager found out heads were going to roll and rightfully so.
Mister Energy (Aira I think his name was) and Dave from the CD staff were fun to hang out with but they weren't out in the club till the last night and both are leaving the explorer very soon.
Overall the cruise was great and the explorer is still my favorite. Due to the length and the time of year it was an older crowd but we still managed to have a wonderful time and will definitely be back sailing with RCCL again. None of the complaints above were major complaints and for the most part it is just me being overly critical to point out the minor things so anyone reading this can make a good decision on which cruise to pick. I have traveled CCL and NCL but not in the past 6-7 years so I don't think it would be fair to compare the lines.