Explorer of the Seas Cruise Review by hollowam: First Time Family on Royal Caribbean
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First Time Family on Royal Caribbean
This is our 4th cruise, but the first with our children and my husband's parents. We have cruised Carnival, Princess, and Silver Seas, but the intent of this review is not to compare cruise lines. I want to give my feedback for all of the families out there are interested in cruising with their children. Our daughter is 11 and our sons are 8 and 5 years old.
Prior to Departure
Just to note, when we received our guest documents in the mail, the Boarding Time said 2:00 with the ship departure time of 6:00. It was a good thing we carefully read the seapass cards that you have to print out during your on-line check in, because that time said boarding was at 12:00. I called RC to confirm the 12:00 time.
It took 3 hours from our home in Connecticut to reach the Cape Liberty Port in Bayonne, NJ. The boat opened for loading at 12:00 and we arrived at 12:15 to Port Terminal Blvd where you need to take a left to get down to the terminal. We waited More 15 minutes at the left turn traffic light to get through to the terminal. The left turn signal only let 3-4 cars through at a time, which seems a bit ridiculous. It looks like they are working on improving the traffic flow there so hopefully it will go quicker for cruisers in the future.
From turning onto Port Terminal Blvd through arriving in our staterooms was an absolute breeze! We pulled our car up to the tent-covered loading /unloading area - signs were easy to follow. There was an attendant assigned to each unloading spot who helped us get all of the luggage out of the car. The attendant loaded all the tagged luggage onto a giant rack - we gave him a tip for the effort. We asked to wait in a seating area under the tent with the kids while the men parked the car in the adjacent parking lot. That took no longer than 10 minutes for them to arrive back at the terminal. It cost $19/day and was totally worth it because it was so easy to park and leave after the cruise. We didn't have to get into the line that formed to get into the terminal ( primarily they were people who didn't have cars to park). One of the staff directed us right into the terminal, bypassing the line, once our party was all back together. Also, there are plenty of restrooms at the terminal. After going through scanners, we waited in the terminal to get our official seapass cards. This took 10-15 minutes from scanner through the official check in.
After check in, there is a table with complimentary water, lemonade and cookies, which I thought was quite nice. We then got right onto a bus and took us on a 1 minute ride to the ship and we walked right aboard. After you arrive on the ship, there was a table and RC staff to give wristbands to all of the children. The wrist bands are to be worn the whole trip, and they signify which muster station the child should go to in case of an emergency disembarkation into the life rafts. If that were to happen and you are not with your child, a crew member will escort your child to the proper muster station. It sure made me feel better!
First thing we did was go right to our rooms. We opted for 2 adjoining balcony rooms that we stayed with the kids, us in one room and the kids in the other. My in-laws stayed directly across from us in a room that overlooked the Promenade. This was a great setup!
We had plenty of space and each room had it's own bathroom. The kid's room had the 2 twin beds on the floor and an upper bunk with a latter of that lowered out of the ceiling. We requested our bed to be pushed together for king size, as did my in-laws. There was only a chair and a small table in our adjoining rooms since the couch shown in the balcony room pictures online would have covered the interior door. When we arrived we had to the stateroom attendant get the key from his manager to open the adjoining rooms. He was very friendly and although it took some time for him to open it up, every time he saw us he assured us he was working on it. Just a note, that the adjoining rooms do not have a door that you can access one balcony from the other. Also, we were worried about the kids could go out on the balcony alone and use the chair to look over the edge. But no worries once we got there - the door took a lot of strength to unlock and open. I child cannot do it alone.
My in-law's promenade room had a nice seating area. They said they heard absolutely nothing through the promenade window even when they had evening parades and music.
Adventure Ocean Kids Club
The Kids Club was amazing! They did an open house of the club the first day and then a registration. Essentially our kids each fell into a separate age group. Ages 9-11, 6-8 and 3-5. They were willing to move our youngest up with his brother, but he had to do 2 sessions in the younger group to prove that he was mature enough. In the end, he could have moved up but the kids were so much bigger in the older room and he was enjoying himself so much in his age group, that we kept him in the 3-5. Another factor in our decision is that days at port have less kids in the kids club, so they combine all 3 rooms for a while and then take the little guys out to there club area. If I moved him up, on port days he would be in with 11-6 year olds and the dodge ball can get quite fierce.
Activities change every 15 minutes, which keeps the kids on their toes. Don't plan on dropping your kids off with wet bathing suits (yes, we tried) because they will send you off with your kids to get changed into dry clothes.
They also do fun activities throughout the week such as circus and pirate performances on the Promenade that our kids act in. They were so cute and got them all on film. Don't miss them if your child is in the club that day (one parent, not us, missed the pirate act and their child was so sad).
For 9-11 year olds, you have the option to have your child self-sign in and sign out. We normally wouldn't have done this, as we are new to cruising with children. However, my daughter met another 11 year old at the open house, who had been on the same ship 5 times and knew where everything was. I talked to her mom and we decided to let her self sign in and out. However, on port days, we signed her in and said she could not sign herself out. We did not want her to run around the ship while we weren't on it. Also, we did not let her sign herself out after 5:00.
For 6-8 and 3-5 years olds, they could not sign themselves in and out, but they have phones that they can call and leave a voicemail in your stateroom. You can also request a beeper that you have to sign. We used this one night and then just went up and checked on them the other nights. Note, they will not let your child sleep at the kids club. If they are tired (except for the pajama party night), they will keep them awake.
Adventure Ocean Hours
Days at sea, the hours were 9:00-12:00, 2:00-5:00 and 7:00-10:00. You can sign them up to Lunch and Play at the club for about $7.95/child. We didn't use this option. Also, 3-4 times during our cruise, they had a Johnny Rockets Night that is absolutely free for the kids. You have to sign them up early in the day and you drop them off and sign them in at Johnny Rockets. They have dinner and are brought to the kids club for the evening. Our kids did this once and loved it.
Days at port, you can leave the kids in the club from 9:00am - 10:00pm (if you are over-nighting at the port) or 9:00am to ship departure time. They will bring them to the Windjammer for lunch and dinner. No extra fee for these at port days. We put them in for a few hours in the morning in Bermuda so we could shop, then took them out to do site-seeing and to bring them to the shops they would like to get souvenirs at. Since we pre-screened the shops without them, they didn't have to trudge through each store, bored. We also put them in the club for dinner our first night in Bermuda. We walked off the ship and went to dinner on the Wharf. When we got back on the ship to get them at 8:30, they didn't want to come with us so they stayed in the club. Note, beepers do not work off the ship. However, if you child needs you when you are off the ship, you will be notified as soon as you check back onto the ship.
Late Night at kids club is offered too. You can leave your child at kids club from 10:00pm to 2:00am for $6.00/hour/child. They charge by the 1/2hour. We only did this one night because the kids begged us to do it since it was "Trash the Room Night". Basically, they threw toilet paper all over the room and danced to music. We picked them up at 11:00 and they were just exhausted, but the room was still packed with kids.
The pools are all salt water but the kids did not mind. Even though it was pretty cold on our sail to Bermuda they still swam. We brought arm floats for our youngest and it was not a problem (we have been to places where no floats of any kind were allowed in the pools). There are 3 fresh water hot tubs in the main pool area, 2 of which were for all ages and another was adults only.
We never made it over to the adults only pool on the ship, but it looked nice.
Dining with Kids
We signed up for the 6:00 main dining seating. If you plan on eating with your kids, this is the time you want - not the late one. We ate at the main dining room every night except the one night we ate in Bermuda. The food was very good. They offer a kids menu with your basic mac n'cheese, chicken fingers, hamburgers etc. Our kids ate off that menu once and ate off the regular menu the rest of the time. There is always chicken, steak, fish, pasta and vegetarian options on the menu.
We signed up for the Family Time Dining when we booked the cruise but it really wasn't necessary. This is so you can get the kids fed in 40 minutes and off to kids club and you can finish your meal. It was not really clear on how/what you do to make this happen unless you ask a lot of questions, but I'll give you the scoop. What you do is sign your child up for Family Time Dining pickup at the kids club earlier in the day. You must do this every day you are going to use it. When you go to dinner, immediately tell you waiter that you need the kids meals quickly because they need to leave at 6:40 for the club. The wait staff was very good about this and always got there meals fast! Then you bring your kids down to deck 4 (the club staff will let you know) and you sign them in for the evening. Then they march them up to the club and you go back to finish dinner. Tip, check the menu earlier in the day or prior to 6:00, and know what your kids want. Then order as soon as you sit down for them.
Alternatively, you can just tell you waiter the kids need to be fed by 7:00 because you are going to take them to kids club. We did this most of the time. I just left the table and brought them up myself at 7:00 to kids club and signed them in. For us, the timing always fell in between courses. The one time it didn't, our waiter put a cover over my dish to keep it warm and I told everyone else to start without me. No big deal!
What Clothes to Pack for the Kids
Let me just tell you I way over packed dressy clothes for the kids. They only time they need to wear slack/dress was for the formal night. Although we had two formal nights, we only made the kids go to one, so we could get family pictures. Then I had to bring them to the room and change into romping clothes to go to the kids club.
Other nights they ate with us, I put them in slacks and my daughter went and changed on her own. Another night, the kids just went in nice short and collared shirts. No one stopped them for dining - I think the staff knows they are leaving quickly anyway. However, adults are not allowed in the dining room at night in shorts - they will make you change if they catch you (or so we were told by the head waiter).
You can eat in the main dining room for lunch in shorts and t-shirts however.
To sum up, the kids wear the fancy stuff for about an hour so they can reuse the clothes as long as they aren't sloppy eaters. They will mostly be in shorts and swim suits. Do bring sweatshirts if you are leaving from Bayonne in the spring. If can get chilly outside.
Nassau and the Atlantis
Let me save you a few bucks if you want to see the Atlantis hotel with the kids. You don't take the $60 tour. You can take a taxi from the boat to the Atlantis for $4/person each way. Or you can take the ferry for $3/person/way. We took the ferry and bought round trip for 7 of us it was $42. We should have bought just one way and I'll tell you why. The ferry not kids safe so keep them in the middle if you are on the top of the ship. But the crew was nice and gave us a little history on some of the homes we sailed by. It was about a $10 minute ride (with a 15 minute wait for the ferry to fill up with passengers).
You can then walk a little ways to get into the Atlantis property. It is free to walk all around the property, but you cannot get into the pool or beach area without a pass. Go into the hotel, though the casino (yes, kids can walk through the casino here) into the main lobby. Look down and there is the famous Aquarium. You can see a huge part of it for free. My father-in-law stayed there before and paid for the aquarium tour and said it was not worth the money when you could see so much of it for free. We just didn't tell the kids there was more to see and they thought it was great!
Let me save you more money. Don't pay $50 (roughly) to go to the Atlantis beach. All beaches are free to go to in Nassau. Walk back off the property to Cabbage Beach (about a 1.5 mile walk from the hotel). Ask any staff in the market area (the casino staff was not friendly when we asked them about the beach and they didn't even tell us we could go for free by taking a little walk). Follow the signs to the Public Beach. You can rent chairs for $10 each. No towels. They have a drink/food shack right when you get to the beach. If you buy a drink, they'll let you use the bathrooms at the small condo property that is on the beach. You can walk down to the Atlantis on the beach. You just can't use there chairs or beach towels.
So this was our mistake. We spent the day at the beach and we are all sandy and salty. Then we did not want to walk the mile back to the ferry with all the kids. So we took a taxi with costs the same if they take you to the ferry or to the cruise ship. So we should have just bought the one way ferry pass. However, we did sell our remaining ferry tickets for $10 at the ferry entrance, so we got some of our money back.
We really didn't see any. We caught some of the comedy show which was pretty funny. We did lots of trivia at the schooner bar, so line dancing. There was too much to do and not enough time! My daughter did the rock climbing wall once and really liked it. She ran out of time to do it again. We enjoyed walking the track on the upper deck in the mornings. 5x around equals one mile. We hung by the pool a lot. The calypso band at the pool was fantastic. There were lots of fun games at the pool for the kids - dancing, hula hoop contests. The kids one medals and t-shirts!
Everyone was beyond friendly and helpful. RC has great staff!
We saw a whale, a few schools of dolphins and 3 waterspouts! There was a storm a ways off from the ship and 3 water spouts touched the ocean at the same time. The captain said it was very rare to see them, let alone 3 of them.
We had a fabulous time! The kids said it was the best vacation ever! We will sail RC again! Less
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