Let me start by saying that this was my dear wife's and I very first cruise. We stayed at the Country Inn Suites the night before the cruise. They had a park and cruise package that was about $70.00 cheaper than parking at the port. I thought it would be better to get there the night before so there was no stress or worrying in driving the 3 hours to the port from home. The shuttle to Cape Liberty from the hotel was ok. It took about 30 minutes to get to the port from the hotel. As we were driving into the port, the driver stated that he had never seen it that empty before. There were no lines of vehicles or people. We arrived at the port around 12:18 pm and were in the security line by 12:22 pm. We were getting on the ship at 12:51 pm, so about ½ hour from time of arrival to being on the ship. I had heard stories of long lines and it taking forever to get on, but we had none of that.
ROOM: The Explorer is a magnificent ship. Our room was very clean. We had an E1 balcony on the hump, room 8318. Yes, there was some peeling paint on the balcony, rust showing on the balcony and the handrails were bare. These did not bother me in the least. My wife and I did spend a lot of time on the balcony in the mornings and in the evenings before dinner and still thought it was lovely. The room was near the aft elevators and stairs so it made traveling throughout the ship easy. I did a lot of exploring the ship in the mornings and I still don't think I saw everything; it is a really large ship.
FOOD: Food is very subjective thing. I really enjoyed all the food that we had. We had dinner most nights in the main dining room. We had my time dining and never felt like we had to make any reservations. Now, we did make reservations on the last 2 formal nights because we did want a certain waiter. On the casual nights, we showed up and got our favorite waiter without reservations. We did have dinner a couple of nights in the Windjammer. I LOVED the stir-fry station. Everything I tried was very tasty and warm. We also had dinner one night in Portofino's. I really can't comment on the menu there, as we did the Mystery Dinner Theater there and only had a choice of steak or shrimp. My wife got the shrimp and I had the steak. They were both very warm and large enough portions that I didn't feel hungry after we left. We ate most of our breakfasts in the Windjammer. We did order room service for breakfast a couple of times due to the times of our excursions. I loved the breakfast in the Windjammer. They had a variety of foods and everything was wonderful. We never had a problem finding a seat and the wait staff was always there to get us drinks. The food in the Cafe Promenade was very good also. I was a little disappointed in the fact that I had to wait until 7:00 am to get a soda. I had purchased the soda card and tried to get soda there early in the morning during my walks and could not get any. We always stopped to get pizza after our late nights in The Chamber.
SHOWS: I loved all the shows. We didn't get to see the 2nd ice show or a couple of the shows, but the ones we went to were wonderful. Enjoyed going to all of the games they had. Our team won The Quest and The Liars Game and enjoyed all the others that we went to. We always had a fun time at the games.
LOUNGES/BARS: We went with a large group from cruise critic who had sailed on the Explorer 2 years ago. They kept telling us how great the piano player was at Schooners Bar. Well, the gentleman that was playing there this year was horrible. We were so looking forward to singing all night long and we never even stayed there one night. We spent a lot of time in the Chamber. The DJ needs some more music though. We requested several songs and he looked at us like we were from another planet. Special thanks go out to our favorite waitress, JULIE. She was awesome and took really good care of us. My wife was collecting the souvenir glasses and needed on of the martini glasses. The last night we were there, Julie came over with a box. She had somehow found the one we were missing.
EXCURSIONS: We did most of our excursions on our own with the group from cruise critics. Most of the time we just jumped into cabs or vans and headed out to the beaches. I think the most fascinating part of the trip was when we went to Maho Beach in St Maarten. I loved taking videos of the planes taking off and landing. Right after we got there, there was a 737 taking off. I ran out to get some good video of it and my dear wife and a few others were standing off to my left. When the plane revved up the engines, it knocked me back a few feet. I didn't realize at the time, but the plane was a little sideways on the runway and my wife and the others took the full brunt of the engines. When I turned around to say something to them after the plane had taken off, they were down in the water. They had gotten knocked over and into water. I would pay good money to have had a video of that.
My wife and I are definitely hooked on cruising. We are trying to arrange a family cruise for 2012, but I would love to try and sneak one in before that. I really need to thank all the good people here on Cruise Critic. I learned a lot from this website that helped us out greatly on our cruise.