Review of Explorer of the Seas February 14th-26th 2010 Valentines Cruise (Very long)
My wife and I went on the 12 day Explorer of the Seas cruise from Cape Liberty Bayonne, NJ leaving Valentine's Day, February 14th. I am 45 and my wife is 44. We are from upstate NY and like leaving from the NY/NJ area since we don't have to fly. This was our 5th cruise and our first with Royal Caribbean. Our previous cruises were on the Norwegian Dream, the Norwegian Dawn, the Norwegian Spirit and Holland America's Noordam. Since we are quite active, we were looking forward to all the activities and amenities on board.
Embarkation This was a relatively painless experience for us. We took a bus shuttle down from Albany, NY to the pier. Our luggage was unloaded and we went in to the registration area. There was a short line where we gave them our Set Sail Passes. They gave us our SeaPass cards we had our photos taken and then we went to the waiting area with our pier shuttle number. It was around 11:15 at this point. We had a coffee and cookies while we waited for our number to be called. Just before noon our number was called and we boarded the bus to the ship. We were on board by a few minutes after noon. Our room wasn't ready yet, so we brought our carry-ons with us to the Windjammer for lunch. We tried the much talked about Honey Stung Chicken and it was very good especially when served hot and fresh. After eating, we went to our room which was now ready. We dropped off our carry-ons and made reservations for our first night of My Time Dining. Our luggage had not arrived yet so we headed out to explore the ship. Soon it was time for the mandatory muster drill. We did not have to bring our life jackets to the drill. We then did some more exploring before going up to Dizzy's Lounge for our Cruise Critic Pre-Meet and Mingle at Sailaway. We then rushed up to the front of the ship to get video and photos as we went under the Verazzano Bridge. It was cold and windy but we got some good shots so it was worth it. Then it was back to our room to get ready for dinner. Still no luggage. We ate in the Columbus dining room since we had MTD.
Cabin We had an inside cabin since we don't spend much time in it anyway. Sleeping, showering and changing clothes several times a day. That's the only time were in it. The square footage is similar to the other inside cabins we've had but it sure seemed smaller. There were only a few inches between the foot of the bed and the beginning of the love seat making for a tight squeeze. The bathroom was also small especially the shower area but being only 5'5" it was too much of a problem. The bed was comfortable and there was plenty of bedding. I could only find one outlet in the entire room so a power strip would definitely come in handy. Our cabin steward, Omelli, was exceptional. He did a fantastic job and we spent a great deal of time throughout the cruise talking with him about a wide variety of topics. We had absolutely no issues with our cabin but down the hall we saw workers addressing some type of toilet plumbing problem (which caused an unpleasant odor) on more than one occasion. We also heard from a few other people of similar plumbing overflow problems.
The Ship The Explorer looked like it was in good shape to us. There was new carpeting in a lot of the public areas and the pool area was updated from what past cruisers told us. We generally liked the layout of the ship. One area we didn't like was the deck above the pool where the jogging track is located. They have the track right in the middle of the pool chairs. You can't get around without walking on the jogging track which can get very congested at times. Also, the deck chairs are squeezed in together so tightly that it is difficult to get in and out.
Dining Room We had the My Time Dining so we were seated in the Columbus Room on deck 5. Most nights we had a table for 2 although we did join a larger table for the first formal night. The wait staff for our MTD was excellent. Augusto, Venito, and Jorge were our waiters and Ritish was our assistant waiter. They were fantastic and very accommodating. There was one entrEe (pasta with shrimp and scallops. The scallops were the smallest I have ever seen in my life. They were the size of m&m's and we were very disappointed) Our waiter practically begged me to order another that I might like better. They felt terrible about it. I've also read a lot about the temperature of the food. Everything that should have been hot, was indeed hot. Once we ordered a decaf coffee that was warm but that was it. Overall we felt the quality of the food was good to very good. Our biggest complaint was that the menu was not very creative. However, we did enjoy all but one dinner and the beef selections were quite good. There is one Indian vegetarian selection on the menu each evening and chicken beef and pasta are always available as well. We only did one breakfast in the dining room. This is because there is no rotation of menus for breakfast. They have just one special that changes daily. This is the first time cruising that we encountered this. On our other cruises the menus had a 3 day rotation so you were offered more variety. It was quicker and easier to just go to the Windjammer. Same thing with lunch. We went twice and it was the same menu each time. We were told that there is a two day menu rotation for lunch. That gets boring very quickly. However, the salad bar in the dining room alone is worth going for at least a couple times since you can choose for a wide variety of fresh veggies and toppings including shrimp, chicken and brie cheese.
Windjammer Cafe We ate most of our breakfasts and lunches here. After a while breakfast can get a little boring. I was pleased with the variety of fresh fruit, omelet stations, pancakes, waffles, meats, cheeses and you could always get cold cereal or oatmeal as well. Lunch was usually pretty good with a decent selection. We enjoyed the chicken, roast beef, pastas and such. We especially liked the Jade section that featured tasty Indian and Asian dishes. The chicken korma was outstanding and Jade also offered pizza with Indian toppings. This was very creative and we enjoyed trying the different pizzas they offered daily. Give it a try if you like Indian food. Hint: avoid the hamburgers unless you can get one when they are first served hot. They sit in a pan, dry up and aren't too good. Otherwise the food was good and coffee, tea, white milk and delicious lemonade was served as well.
Promenade Cafe We were fairly disappointed with the Promenade Cafe. It was good for coffee and early morning treats but the selection was very limited. Since this is the 24 hour food place we were expecting more. Something like the Blue Lagoon on the Norwegian ships which is much better for anytime eating. The sandwiches were essentially finger foods and the pizza was mediocre. Some burgers, wings and pub style food would have been nice late in the evening after a show.
Room Service We ordered twice from room service and each time they delivered our food hot and fast. We had our best burger from room service. I would have loved some French fries with the burger but it comes with a bag of potato chips and you can not order fries. We also had the chicken wings. They are good but are served plain (no wing sauce) with blue cheese on the side. Breakfast can also be ordered from room service in the mornings but we ate our breakfast at the Windjammer cafe.
Johnny Rockets We did not eat here. I don't think hamburgers should be extra on a cruise. I guess this is why they don't do poolside barbecues on the Explorer. They did just one poolside BBQ when we left San Juan. The burgers and ribs were excellent but there are no tables on that deck of the Explorer so we took our plates into the Windjammer cafe. Kind of defeats the point of a poolside BBQ when you have to move inside.
Entertainment We enjoyed most of the entertainment on Explorer. The first night was comedian Steven Scott. As a comedian he was okay but not hilarious. He was very good with the impressions he did. The next night was singer/guitarist Mario D'Andrea who was a very good guitarist. He sang songs by Sinatra, Dean Martin, Tony Bennett. But then he started with the guitar. He made it sound like other instruments like bagpipes and the mandolin. Night 3 was Vibeology which was a song and dance production by the Royal Caribbean Singers and Dancers. Not my cup of tea but well done. Night 4 was the Acrobatic Variety of Olympic Gymnast Lance Ringnald. This was an incredible show featuring gymnastics, silks, juggling and music. He was incredibly talented and a great entertainer. Night 5 was another Royal Caribbean Singers & Dancers production, Fast Forward. Again, not what I'm really into, but well done. Night 6 was The Wit and Wizardry of Martin Lewis. He was a very good illusionist and very entertaining. Night 7 was the Motown Music of Johnny Thunder. Thunder is a former member of the Drifters. He also put on a great show getting the audience involved throughout the performance. Night 8 was yet another Royal Caribbean Singers & Dancers show, Wild, Cool and Swinging. It too was well done. Night 9 was Fireworks on Four Strings. This was a musical show with violinist Maria Neglia. She was on the Ed Sullivan show over 20 times. Night 10 was A Tribute to the Beatles starring Hard Days Night. They were a decent Beatles cover band. Some songs were better than others. Night 11 was the final production of the Royal Caribbean Singers & Dancers. It was Invitation to Dance and was choreographed by Louis Van Amstel form ABC's Dancing With the Stars. Unfortunately we missed the final night which was comedian Rick Starr. We heard he was funny though. (Also, remember to get your tickets for the Ice Show as it is very entertaining.)
Activities We are very active vacationers so we tried to do as many things as possible. We both did the rock climbing wall. We also went ice skating, we played mini-golf, table tennis and basketball. The Explorer has plenty of hot tubs (and pools) which are open 24 hours a day. Some of our other cruises closed the pools and hot tubs at certain points, so it was nice to see that you could use them at any time you wished. I won the adult table tennis tournament and received a gold medal. We also both participated in the blongo (we call it ladderball) tournament and the baggo (beanbag toss) tournaments. I won a silver medal for blongo. My wife became a celebrity on the cruise after winning the Finish the Lyric Gameshow. She beat all the other contestants and continued on to win a variety of Royal Caribbean prizes. From then on people kept recognizing her for the rest of the cruise. They also had a Love and Marriage game, the adult themed Quest and the Liars Club. They were all very funny and entertaining. The cruise directors staff and athletic activities staff were all outstanding.
Ports of Call
St Thomas This was our 4th time here. We did the ship excursion to snorkel at Trunk Bay. We enjoyed this very much. They have an underwater National Park here. The snorkeling was pretty good. We didn't have a lot of time because you have to take a ferry and a bus to get there and back.
St Maarten This was also our 4th time here. We just hailed a cab to Orient Beach ($6.00 per person if the van has at least 6 people in it) with some other Cruise Critic members in our group. The snorkeling wasn't very good. You can rent beach chairs and umbrellas here. If you go more to the right as you look at the water, the prices are better. Yes you will see some clothing optional people especially when you head further to the right.
Dominica This was our first time in Dominica. We joined a charter van trip that some Cruise Critic member had set up with Reyno. We went to Emerald Pool, Trafalgar Falls, hot springs and more. We also had a guided tour of the island. We enjoyed it very much.
Barbados We booked an independent sea turtle excursion with Shasa Catamaran. Unfortunately it was cancelled due to rough sea conditions. So we just hung out on the ship the rest of the day.
Antigua We booked the ship excursion, Antigua Kayak & Snorkel Adventure. We were driven to our location where we would be kayaking. On the way we received a guided tour. Once there, we got in kayaks and with a guide, went around the mangroves. We finished with a race back. Then we went in powerboats to Bird Island where we hiked up to the top for some great views. Then we snorkeled just off Bird Island before finally heading back for rum punch and banana bread. We would definitely recommend this excursion.
San Juan This was our 3rd time in San Juan. We just walked up the coast in old San Juan to el Morro. Then we walked through the town and stopped at the Hard Rock Cafe since we're big music fans.
Debarkation This wasn't as good as embarkation. We got off the ship without any problems but our shuttle bus was stuck in the traffic getting into the pier. This is because they only have one lane in each direction. So we had to stand in a tent-like area for over an hour until our bus could get to us. Our luggage got dirty when it fell in one of the many puddles in the area we had to wait in.
Final conclusion We enjoyed the Explorer of the Seas very much. Our fellow cruise critic friends and others that we met on board were all terrific people and added to the fun. The staff on the Explorer were all very nice, friendly and helpful. They seemed to be enjoying their job and having fun, and it was nice that many of them remembered our names and said hello when we saw them around the ship. We love the of leaving from the NY/NJ area where we don't have to fly. There was a lot that we liked on this cruise and a few things that we didn't care for. While we weren't so blown away that we would never cruise on another line again, we also would have no problems doing more Royal Caribbean cruises. We heard that some of the ports are changing for next year so we are definitely considering cruising on the Explorer again!