We just got home from a 5-night cruise to Bermuda on Explorer of the Seas (June 19-24, 2010). We have been on several cruises in recent years, on several different cruise lines (Disney, Norwegian, RCCL). While I will do my best NOT to compare this one to the others, sometimes it is hard because of expectations based on prior experiences.
To begin, we had a wonderful time and it was WAY too short! I went with my husband, my mother, and my 7-yr old daughter. When we first booked our cabin several months ago, we chose the Junior Suite. However, a few weeks later, the prices had dropped so much that we were able to get a Grand Suite for about the same price. We ended up on Deck 10, cabin #1284.
Following is our review. I tried to categorize everything so you just read what interests you. EMBARKATION:
Cape Liberty was an easy drive, less than 2 hours from the Philly area. When you get to the terminal to drop off passengers/luggage, it does get quite congested with passengers leaving and coming at the same time.
Embarkation was painless, although it took longer than some other reviewers had experienced. We got to the terminal by 11:00, but couldn't board until 12:30. We had to wait for a wedding party to get on the buses first, followed by a group from a travel agency. No big deal, however. We were on board by 12:30. Grabbed lunch at the Windjammer (not very crowded at all at that time), and were by the pool by 1:00. Cabins were ready right on time.
Our room was lovely and spacious. It was probably one of the few suites left that still had the small tube TVs, but I didn't care as we didn't come all this way to watch TV anyway. We had no luck getting cold running water in the bathroom. Maintenance came and said that was how it was supposed to be. The next day, our cabin steward told us we had to turn it on and off a certain way if we wanted to get cold water. We gave up trying, but it didn't really bother us.
Although the room was plenty big, there really isn't any place to hang towels. Sure, we had the ropes in the bathtub to hang swimsuits and such, but towels were too heavy and took up too much room. There were two metal "pegs" inside the bathroom door, but they were like stubs and didn't hold anything. Whatever we tried to hang from them fell immediately. There were some rust spots on the balcony rail, but who cares????? It wasn't any different than what you see in hotels you stay in for vacation. This was just fine! The rooms are smoke free, but you are allowed to smoke on the balconies. We were sandwiched between two cabins with smokers in them, so sometimes when I was relaxing on the balcony, I could smell the smoke. Ich. But again, nothing so bad that it ruined our enjoyment. There was plenty of fresh air to go around.
The ship is really lovely. I love the promenade and the whole dEcor. It's very easy to get around the ship. Other ships we've been on did not flow as smoothly and sometimes we'd find ourselves in a "no pass through area" and have to turn back. This was not the case here. You never had to do something like go up one level to cross over something and then come back down to where you wanted to go.
There is no food service by the pool area, so if you get hungry, you have to go to the Windjammer. The challenge is that you are not allowed in there with swimsuits and bare feet, so you have to throw some clothes/shoes on, even if just to grab a drink or some fries. Not sure how well that rule was enforced, but it was there. On other ships, there is usually a grill and beverage machines right by the pool so you don't have to go very far for a light snack. On the bright side, there wasn't much trash and dirty plates lying around the lounge chairs.
Don't forget to check out the public restrooms by the Windjammer. There are HUGE windows that overlook the ocean. Simply spectacular, and not what you'd expect to see in a bathroom!
Nice shops, but not a whole lot of merchandise in them to appeal to the masses. There were a lot of Roxy clothes and Bijoux accessories, and costume jewelry and watches. Lots of T-shirts, but as far as souvenirs go, not a lot of choice. Especially for children, there wasn't a whole lot to choose from. Lots of keychains and magnets, but nothing that said "Bermuda." Everything said "St. Thomas." Maybe they just forgot to change the inventory for this trip to Bermuda.
Great prices on liquor, but customs only allows one liter per adult. So although you may be tempted by the "2 for $20" offer, just remember customs will limit it to just one per person.
The food in the Windjammer had some great variety, and something for everyone. I'd say it wasn't as good as other cruise lines, but I always found something to enjoy. The only exception was the buffet breakfast. The breads (muffins, pancakes, waffles, etc) always seemed to be dry and cold. So we ate fruit, yogurt, eggs and cereal instead.
We ate most nights in the MDR. Our table for 4 was on the 2nd level, overlooking the center atrium. It was a spectacular view of all three levels, but as you can imagine, very loud with all the noise going up. Our waiter and assistant waiter were very nice, but a little too serious. We are used to our waiters smiling and making conversation with us. We always had to remind them to bring our iced teas. They were good, but we just missed some of our waiters on prior cruises. The table next to us had a really great waiter and it happened to be his birthday the last night. So the table got together and sang him Happy Birthday and gave him a cake with a candle. They sure had a lot of fun with him.
The food at dinner the first two nights was awesome! The Sea Bass from the Vitality Menu was unbelievably delicious! The food disappointed us the next night, but was back in step by the last night. One huge exception. The chocolate soufflE was downright awful! The description mentioned dark chocolate among other things, but when it came out, it looked more like the color of whole wheat or pumpkin. The flavor had no hint of chocolate and the consistency was quite odd. If you are expecting something like the chocolate soufflE at Roy Yamaguchi's restaurants, or something with a warm liquid chocolate center, you will be extremely disappointed. PORTOFINO's:
We went to Portofino's one night. We initially had a lot of trouble getting a reservation and even our Concierge struggled to get us a good time. Oddly, though, when we finally did go, I'd say the restaurant was only 60% filled. On other cruise lines, you pay a fee for the specialty restaurant, but can order as much as you'd like. Here, there is a charge if you order more than one entrEe, or if you order more than one of a certain type of appetizer (soup and salad is OK, but there is a charge for 2 other types). Service here was V E R Y S L O W! Even our waiter acknowledged it and apologized several times, and we hadn't even brought it up! When we mentioned something to the Maitre D', he said they are intentionally slow to prolong the enjoyment. He said if we wanted to go faster, we should have said something and he would have paced it that way. So if it's intentional, why did our waiter keep apologizing for our long wait? I'm all for long, relaxing dinners, but when you have an 8:00 reservation, we thought we'd be finished by 10:00. We were not. We had asked to celebrate my mother's birthday in Portofino. Well, when they brought us our desserts, they completely forgot. We just brushed it off, wished her a happy birthday, and at our dessert. We were ready to go when the waiter must have remembered, because he brought my mother a SECOND dessert, this time with a candle. She felt obligated to at least eat some of it, even though she already had a dessert and was stuffed.
My daughter is almost 8. She LOVED LOVED the kids' club on the Disney ships (what kid doesn't), and absolutely HATED it on our Norwegian cruise. So we had no idea what to expect with RCCL. Well, let me tell you, it was AWESOME! She loved going there every day after we went swimming and it was SO hard for her to leave at night. The "free" club ends at 10:00 PM, and after that it is $6.00 per hour (and they charge in ½ hour increments). Can't beat that! And they are open until 2:00 am. She really had a ball. I only have 2 small complaints with the club.
#1, they charge extra if you want your child to stay through lunch and dinner. So, if you don't want to pay, you have to make sure to pick them up at noon, drop them off again at 2:00, pick them up at 5:00 and drop them back at 7:00.
#2, the entrance to the kids club is in the arcade. Try walking through it to get to/from the kids club without your child begging you to play a few games. It reminded me of Las Vegas where you have to walk through a casino to get anywhere. Oh, and why not stick a few bucks in the machines as you pass them?
All in all, the kids' activities were great and my daughter had a blast. In the end, that's what it's all about, right?
Our first day at sea was rained out. But the other days it was beautiful. Our last sea day, we sat in the chairs reserved for suite guests. I've read that these seats are usually mostly empty, but today they were completely full. The staff does an excellent job at checking key cards to ensure that only suite guests are using them. Every chair on deck 11 was taken. Around 1:00 I saw a family of five come to the pool and the look on their faces as they tried to find some seats told me this was indeed their first cruise. They were flabbergasted that they couldn't find a seat anywhere by 1:00. I felt bad for them, but hopefully next time they will know what to expect.
The kid's pool is also a great place, but people often miss it completely. It is on deck 12, at the end of the ship near the Adventure Ocean. There is a big yellow tube slide, and a smaller, straight slide for the little ones. It's also completely covered, so we went there the first day when it rained.
We were there Monday and Tuesday. We had no idea that Monday was a holiday (Queen's Day?), and all the shops were closed. My husband, daughter and I did the Hartley's Helmet dive and my mom took a bus ride around the island. The helmet dive was AWESOME! Greg and his kids were wonderful! My daughter got scared while we were down there, so Greg brought her back to the boat. But five minutes later, he got her to come back and give it another try. She was much better for the 2nd half of the dive. I'm thankful that he tried. Another little girl on the next dive had the same issue, and he really tried to convince her to give it another chance. My daughter also tried to convince her that it's not so scary the 2nd time, but she didn't want to go back down. At the end of the trip, he gave that little girl some fish posters. That was really nice.
I recommend you book directly through him rather than through the ship's excursion. Pickup is at the same spot near the ship, regardless of how you book it, and it's a little bit cheaper. He also has a toll-free number and a website to call to make the reservations. http://www.hartleybermuda.com/
Carlos, our concierge, was wonderful. He helped us with reservations at Portofino, and got us the bus passes for Bermuda. Normally, you have to buy the passes at the pier, unless you booked an excursion through the ship. But he was able to get them for us beforehand, so we didn't have to wait in line at the pier. Each night before dinner, we went to the Concierge Lounge for drinks and hors d'oeurves. It was quiet, comfortable, and relaxing. Samir, the bartender in the lounge, was a delight. He is kind, sweet, very personable, and makes great drinks! We enjoyed talking with him. The lounge was rarely crowded. Most nights we were the only ones there. We did meet another couple there who were very friendly as well. Reserved seating at the ice show was a blessing. NO ticket needed, only have to show your suite card to get VIP seats. OVERALL:
All in all, we had an awesome time. Not enough time to really take advantage of everything there was on the ship. We only saw one show because some of the 2nd seating shows didn't start until 10:45 and that was too late to sit for an hour. The magician/comedian Peter Gross was really good. The ice show was spectacular as well. Didn't have time to ice skate, rock climb, or play miniature golf. But those are reasons to come back for another cruise!