Re-visiting Explorer . . this time with family: Explorer of the Seas Cruise Review by DocJohnB
Overall Member Rating
Re-visiting Explorer . . this time with family
Embarkation: Bayonne (Cape Liberty)
We drove down from Maine the day before the Cruise and stayed one night at the Best Western Newark Airport West. My daughter found this on the internet and booked it. Driving up to it my first thought was uh-oh. It is located in a commercial area of Newark and the neighborhood looked a little rough. The hotel was a gem. We had booked 2 rooms. Both were LARGE . . in fact the largest non-sutie rooms we have ever occupied. The hotel was clean, the rooms were well More appointed and very comfortable. There is an on-site restaurant and bar. Continental breakfast was offered complimentary. The hotel offers a park, cruise option. We opted to park at the cruise terminal parking lot.
Up early on embarkation day. The SIL insisted he wanted to get to the terminal early so we could get on ahead of the majority and we left the hotel about 10 a.m. I thought he was being a little antsy and suggested we leave an hour later. Glad he was the driver. We arrived at the pier, checked our bags with a porter and got in line to check in. My wife uses a walker (occasionally) and her and I were immediately directed to an open line. Our Captain's Club status provide us with Diamond perks and we were being directed to the Diamond area. I asked if the DD's family could join and the representative say, "of course". Unfortunately, the rep where the DD was checking in said just the opposite, so to save a discussion, we just went with the daughter. Because we were early, this was no problem. However, it would be nice if all check-in personnel were on the same page. We were in the waiting area no more than 30 minutes when our number was called and we boarded a bus to take us the short distance to the ship. We headed up to the Windjammer Cafe' for our first meal of the cruise.
We had 3 PR rooms (8261, 8263, 8305). 61-63 were adjoining with a door between the two. These were used by the daughter and her family. These promenade rooms are OK in my opinion. The "bay" window overlooking the promenade expands the size of the room, at least in appearance. Comfortable, the rooms provided more than adequate storage for our needs. The bath was also adequate, but the circular, glass enclosed shower was a bit intimate. The only negative to the room was the placement of the safe. The safe was located on the left side of the closet facing front to back. It opened into the room and one had to reach around the door to find and get whatever was needed inside. Just a poor, poor design, IMO. Comparison to Century: Century was a bit larger, better bath facility and more comfortable.
The dining experiences (not food) on this ship just lack "something". I am comparing it to Celebrity and the Century last year. The Windjammer cafe' just was not able to accommodate the number of people on this cruise (and I had the same recollection from my last cruise on her 6 years ago). A lot of this has to do with people who like to sit around after dining and enjoy each others company. I have no problem with this concept UNLESS it is apparent that people are standing around with plates of food looking for a place to sit. On this voyage people either ignored that fact or were oblivious to it. Most times that we ate there, an announcement was being made asking people to please move on when they were finished . . . . that usually worked. Because of this, we ended up taking all breakfasts and most lunches in the main dining room . . . . . and this was a good idea. The ambience of the main dining room is fine but nothing special. Dinnerware, silverware, furniture etc. are plain and utilitarian. Celebrity does it much better, even on a ship as old as Century. Do not misunderstand, we enjoyed our dining experience in the main dining room. The six of us were seated with a delightful couple from Pennsylvania. He was a pastor of a Church and she was retired. It took them only a few minutes to welcome us to their table and we all enjoyed each other's company throughout the cruise.
This is probably the most sujbective of areas to discuss. I am going to leave it at this. Most of the meals I had were OK to good. Only one was not. I ordered the (everyday menu) salmon one night. It was dry and overcooked. Sent it back (something I very rarely ever do). Second try was absolutely no better. In my opinion the food, (quality, choice, presentation, etc.) while acceptable, falls well short of that provided by Celebrity.
If I were to grade the service we received solely on our waitstaff and room attendants, this would be an A (minimum). However, others figure into the service equation and this area was not as good.
Our waitstaff was terrific. Our waiter, Edmund and assistant, Zarko were terrific. Edmund (Dominica) was attentive, not obtrusive and had a terrific personality. He "adopted" the granddaughter who is a terribly picky eater. Each evening he would hand her "kids" menu placed on top of the adult menu. By the 3rd night he knew she was only going to order one of two items, but he ALWAYS attempted to get her to try something different (worked one time to my surprise). Zarko (Croatia) was terrific at his job. He quickly learned our likes and ensured they were available each evening. Our water glasses were always filled, coffee delivered when we desired, etc. We met both these gentlemen around the ship at various times and were always acknowledged by name.
Our room attendant, Lydia (Jamaica) and her helper(s) did an outstanding job. The room was always in top-notch shape and clean. I am an early riser and the wife sleeps in which initially led to some confusion as to when she needed to do the room. She stopped me in the hall on the 3rd morning and suggested that I leave the "do not disturb" card in the key lock until the wife was up and about, then to leave the "make up my room" card. We did this and it worked great. Because of new sneakers, my wife developed some blisters and sore feet. I asked Lydia if she could provide something that the wife could soak her feet. She said, "of course", give me an hour so I can sanitize a pail. She provided a clean, nice sized (Home Depot) pail. She had filled it with hot water and (Epson) salts. Worked. Her towel animals were a delight, especially the last one which were kissing swans surrounded by rose petals.
Unfortunately, it was some of the other staff that did not perform satisfactorily. Some bartenders were great, others were almost surly. If the security personnel had a function, I never discovered what it was. On more than a handful of occasions I saw them observe ill-behavior by some children and do nothing about it. One day I was sitting at the Champagne bar, reading and enjoying a drink. I noticed a group of teen-age girls riding the elevator up and down, stopping at every floor. A security type walked by, I mentioned it to him and he said, "What do you expect me to do about it?" I don't know, talk to them perhaps. More about this in a bit. The photo staff were likewise barely civil, unless they wanted to take your photo. There were other examples of poor service.
I truly enjoyed the entertainment provided onboard this ship. Now, I have seen enough production shows over our many cruises that I have become a bit jaded and only go if I have to (i.e., wife insists). I went to the first one just to observe my granddaughter and her reaction. The dancers and singers were so good, that I quickly got "into" their show. I did skip the second production show, but went to the 3rd show and also enjoyed it. The "filler" acts were also very good. A comedian and a comedian juggling act held my attention, while a magician not so much. The other entertainment around the ship was very good. Overall when compared to Century (and Celebrity in general), RCI wins hands down.
Great itinerary. A day at sea followed by two days in-port at King's Wharf, Bermuda. Another day at sea followed by a day in Nassau, then a day at the private island of Coco Cay and finally another 2 days at sea. For me this is a perfect mixture of sea and in-port days. The daughter and her family would like (and will try) a more port intensive cruise. My wife had a terrible accident last year and is limited in her walking ability because of back problems, so we limited our visits in port. While the kids traipsed about Bermuda, we only went out the first day, took a trolley to the shopping area a short distance away, had lunch ashore and made our way back to the ship. The next day they all took in a glass show a short distance from the ship. In Nassau we all took a glass bottom boat tour from the ship, had lunch at Senor Frogs and meandered around town. The wife's back soon started giving her trouble so her and I headed back to the ship (we have been to Nassau on many occasions, so this wasn't a bad thing). The kids stayed out in town and weren't overly impressed. However, the next day they were. Coco Cay was (almost) thoroughly enjoyable. The SIL and grandson participated in a parasailing tour, while the daughter and granddaughter did a sea kayaking adventure. Grandma and I laid out on the beach. The guys were back first having enjoyed the experience. Because of some headwinds the sea kayak adventure was late getting back and bringing up the rear were our girls. However, the guide was impressed with the granddaughter. She never gave up and although they needed some help from the guide, the completed the whole adventure. Not bad for an 11 year old. After a nice bar-b-q, grandma and I reclaimed our recliners and watched the "gear" while the rest went snorkeling. They all agreed that this was the best part of Coco Cay. Now to explain the (almost) thoroughly. When we were gathering up our belongings, it started to sprinkle. The line to the tender was really long. By the time we got to the tender, we were drenched. It was a bit chilly, so all in all the trip back to the ship was uncomfortable.
Speaking of tendering: A-
At least, at Coco Cay it works well. Mostly tendering, no matter which cruise line, stinks. Never enough tenders to get the folks in and back in a reasonable time. Although it was just a bit slow getting back, all in all, tendering here was a good experience.
Initially this could have gone badly. The whole were booked together and reservations were linked. When we received the color code for leaving. The wife and I were departing with Diamond people at 9:30 and the daughters family at 10:15 - 10:30. A quick trip to guest relations resolved this. We asked for the same code and mentioned that we had an eight hour drive ahead. We were given an early departure (9:15) together. We debarked on time. Unfortunately, my wife's and my luggage were not in the area designated. After a frantic search, someone mentioned that there was an overload located elsewhere. After finding someone from RCI, we were taken to another area of the luggage building. Somehow, this could have been improved on. . . . . like putting all the same color together and just moving around the rest. After getting all the luggage and a porter, we quickly went through customs and out the door. The SIL headed to the car only to find it had a dead battery. A helpful pier staff member provided a jump and we were on our way home.
Some final thoughts. The demographics on this voyage were interesting to say the least. There were 3,700+ passengers. Of these 3,500+ were from the USA. I am only guessing, but approximately 60-70% of these folks were from the northeast. There were 750 children (20%) under the age of 17. School vacation was quite prevelant in the northeast that week, so I am guessing the average age of the passengers would be in the early 40's, although folks of all ages (babies to seniors) were onboard.
Now to an area I spoke briefly about earlier. Kids. This ship had a terrific childrens program. Folks with children could provide an accurate breakdown, but they were divided by age. Never saw a problem with the younger folks as they were all well managed by staff and/or parents. The problem were the teens. Not all, of course, but enough to be a problem. After a couple of days some of the older teens (guessing 14-17 years old) tended to "pack" up. Some of these packs were all girls, some all boys and some a mixture. I mentioned the elevator incident . . . it was only one of many such incidents. I got on the elevator more than once and all the floor buttons had been pushed. The commonality was the the elevator had just been vacated by these packs. They also scurried about the ship without a thought to other people, bumping into them. One night (early morning) a bunch of them were noisily making their way down our hallway. Next morning I was walking down the hallway and noticed torn up "do not disturb" cards on the deck outside of at least 25 cabins. My assumption may be wrong, but I have to believe it was the teens I heard early that morning. I know these pack rats did not belong to anybody on Cruise Critic because whenever acting out kids are discussed on these forums everybody denies that it could be their well-behaved child misbehaving. I am going to tell you folks, odds are at least some of these miscreants belong to our members. OK, off that soapbox.
When I am at sea, I like to find quiet corners to sit, relax and read. Unfortunately, this class ship does not provide those nooks and crannies I have found on other ships (Celebrity and even NCL). Some of this has to do with the weather we experienced on some sea days (cool, cool). People tended to stay within the confines of the ship. On the Century I was always able to find a quiet spot, even on those bad weather days.
My son-in-law who rarely comments on such things mentioned that he was surprised by the number of folks he overheard talking about their experience on this cruise as compared to previous cruises. All were invariable in the vein of, "things have declined over the years (food, service, amenities, etc.)". He asked me about this and my response was that, IMO, generally it was probably a valid statement throughout the entire mainstream cruising industry. Then I started thinking about our last RCI cruise (6 years previously). I came to the conclusion that these folks were right as it applied to the RCI product. Things have indeed declined over the years. Food certainly has declined. Although as said above our waitstaff and room attendants were outstanding, overall so has service.
In a previous review of the Mariner, I mentioned that I was not comfortable with the number of passengers on this class ship. That feeling was exacerbated on this cruise when the ship sailed pretty much at capacity. Again, because of the days when the weather wasn't the best and folks were inside, it became downright crowded. This was especially noticeable in the Windjammer cafe' and on the Promenade. Sometimes in the middle of the day, it was a little difficult just navigating down the promenade. I noticed this a bit on our previous sailings on this class, but it was really bad this time.
Finally, I have seen comments on these boards that Explorer was showing her age. It was my intention to look closely to see if I could see signs of it. Well, I actually forgot to do so, so that in itself may say something. I did notice some wood (rails, etc.) that could be refurbished and stained carpeting (always clean, just stained by long usage (over 1.5 million passengers since its first voyage). My thoughts now are that one has to look closely to notice the inevitable signs of aging in a ship of her age. Anybody who lets it disturb the enjoyment of their cruise really needs to focus on enjoying life more.
My bottom line is that while this was an enjoyable cruise vacation with my family, it is a class of ship that I personally do not enjoy nor am comfortable on. There were many positives and only a few problems . . . . it is just to big a ship with too large a passenger ratio for me.
So, I am pretty sure. that the Oasis is not on my horizon. Less
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