Just got back from our June 10 - 19th cruise on Explorer of the Seas sailing out of Cape Liberty with a 2 day stop in Bermuda, one day in Nassau and one day in Coco Cay.
First off this was my wife and my first cruise. We have traveled fairly extensively in the Caribbean staying in All Inclusive resorts in Mexico and the Dominican Republic, as well as 5 star hotels in the United States. We weren't sure what to expect on a cruise but thought that it would be an exciting change.
We were not disappointed.
Embarkation Port - Cape Liberty
Cape Liberty itself is abit of a dive ... traffic flow into the port is terrible so give yourself lots of extra time if driving to the ship. Wife and I flew in from Toronto, and arrived in Newark by 10AM. We were at the port by 11AM and on the ship around 1:00.
First Day Thoughts:
It seems that most people head straight for the Windjammer buffet as the rooms are not ready until 4:30. Be prepared for massive crowds in the buffet ... I suggest leaving larger carry ons with the porters to be delivered to your room later. I know this is debatable, however, I felt it would not have been worth it having to lug around large carry ons with the large crush of people in the lunch buffet on the first day. Arrive early and you should get a seat ... it's your first day of vacation so why wait until 2 or 3 to get on the boat? Gotta squeeze out every last bit of value from your hard earned vacation dollars!
This was one thing I really liked about the first day of the cruise. When my wife and I have gone to all inclusive resorts we often have not arrived until late in the afternoon, sometimes even late evening! That's a whole day of vacation gone. With this cruise by 2:00 we had full tummy's and time to explore the ship. We felt we really got into "vacation mode" alot sooner than we had on our previous land based vacations.
When you DO finally get into your rooms make sure you have disinfectant wipes with you. ALOT of people go through these rooms, as a matter of fact likely somebody has vacated your room less than 5 hours before you arrived! I think it's important to give the washroom a wipedown, it would suck to get sick a day into vacation! Check your sheets to make sure you have clean linen as well. We didn't have any problems but I have heard of people that do.
We had a Superior Balcony stateroom near the back of the ship. It was a long walk down that hallway to get to our rooms. I think next time around I'd rather be either half way or closer to the front ... the elevator to the buffet and pool deck is on that side of the ship ... and you will be using that elevator bank ALOT!
The room itself was great. Spacious compared to what I was expecting, tons of storage and closet space, and a reasonable sized bathroom. The shower stall was big enough for the two of us (a little tight with two), and I loved the sliding door which kept the rest of the washroom floor reasonably dry.
The beds were comfortable, slightly more firm than what I am used to but nothing to complain about. Compared to the beds at RIU resorts, RCCL beds were heavenly.
Room had a safe, a small fridge, came with two 1 litre Evian waters (not sure if we had to pay for that or not).
The food on the ship was great. We felt the buffet was decent with a large selection of meats, fruits, vegetables, pasta dishes and so forth. I didn't see awhole lot of chicken throughout the cruise although we did get to try the famous honey stung chicken which was delicious. A warning to those who like their meat well done ... Americans tend to prefer their meat bloody ... if you want a well cooked steak make sure you tell them WELL DONE. Unfortunately though this will usually result in a very dry steak so consider yourself warned!
The MDR was beautiful and our servers were fantastic. There was nothing he wasn't willing to do for us, often bringing out multiple entres unasked. The food itself was very good, however, it was also VERY sauce heavy. The richness of the food didn't sit too well with my stomach (I have digestion problems), and I had to take a break a few days and go to the buffet instead.
Food quality though is far better in the MDR than the buffet ... far far far better. While I really appreciated the casual dining atmosphere of the buffet a few nights, we ended up back in the MDR simply because the food tasted so much better and the service was amazing. That's not to say service in the buffet was lacking. There were always servers coming around bringing drinks, both free and those you pay for.
Breakfast was a nice selection of eggs, bacon, continental, omelette's, etc. Wife and I got room service for breakfast several mornings and while not as good as the buffet nothing could beat sitting out of the balcony with breakfast and coffee while sailing into a port.
If there is one thing you DO do in terms of dining, please please PLEASE visit the lunch MDR on sea days. It is a million times better than the buffet. Wife and I only got there once during our cruise and we regretted not taking advantage of it more. The food quality was far better than the buffet and they had a salad bar there that was probably one of the best I've ever seen. The entres at lunch were delicious and tasted much fresher than the buffet.
A few other dining thoughts:
Don't be late in the buffet. When the buffet closes IT CLOSES. Within 2 minutes after closing all the food will be gone, the staff is VERY efficient.
Coffee on this ship is STRONG. If your used to Tim Horton's or Dunkin Donuts style coffee you will need to water down your coffee (half water/half coffee). That made it taste alot more like I am used to.
Cafe Promenade pizza is disgusting. Unless it is 3 AM and you are drunk as hell and starving. Then it is the food of the gods. =)
Wife and I loved the pool deck. Tons of places to sit and it never felt crowded. The water was abit colder than my liking but really the pool was more for cooling off before going back to tanning. The whirlpools were fantastic, I really loved sitting in their and making new friends.
The music on the pool deck ranged from great to not so great. In the afternoons a Caribbean band would play live music for a few hours which we loved. Unfortunately though most of the time they had top 40 garbage playing which I really didn't like. When I went to AI resorts in the Caribbean it was Calypso, reggae and Caribbean music all day long ... I would have much preferred something like that over hearing the equivalent of Sirius 1 all day long.
Pool deck was divided in half with smoking allowed on one side and not on the other, so be prepared if you hate smokers and are from a state or province that is anti smoking. Personally I'm a chimney so I was in heaven =)
Not even sure where to start. There was so much to do on the ship I almost felt overwhelmed at first. I am sure that if you are the type of person that has to do EVERYTHING you may end up really stressed out. Take my approach ... go with the flow, do what you enjoy, and don't stress out if you miss something. Everyone hates an "itinerary" guy ... you know the guy or gal that puts their entire family on a regimented schedule. There were many days when wife and I basically ignored the compass (schedule of day activities) and did whatever we pleased ... now THAT's vacationing!
Entertainment options were varied and there was always something going on. Wife and I really enjoyed the evening entertainment. For those of you used to all inclusive resorts like Gran Bahia Principe or RIU resorts, the RCCL cruise ship entertainment blew those resorts out of the water. Piano bars, a great disco, broadway style shows, an ice show (which we sadly missed due to a spa appointment on formal day), casino, comedy clubs, live music of every sort imaginable .... the entertainment on this ship put very simply kicked some serious ass.
The entertainment was probably one of the biggest reasons I think that makes this type of vacation so wonderful. RCCL does a fantastic job on this front, you will NOT be disappointed.
Unbelievable in a very good way. There was NOTHING the staff wouldn't do for you. A HUGE noticeable difference from service in regular Caribbean All Inclusive resorts which I had always thought was ok.
Tip these people. They work long hours and you will almost never see a frown. They all were genuine nice people ... honestly the service was a big part of what made the trip so memorable from the wait staff in the MDR and buffet, to our stateroom attendant that was the kindest I've ever had while on vacation.
Bravo RCCL, FANTASTIC!
Great people working there although it is very expensive. I tried acupuncture and plan on continuing treatment back here in Canada. Glad I did it. My wife got a facial and felt it made a huge difference to her very sensitive skin.
Ladies be warned, the staff in the spa is expected to upsell you on very VERY expensive spa products on top of your treatments (often more expensive than the spa service you already paid for!). The staff is VERY good at it (selling) and will use a combination of flattery and appealing to your vanity to get you to buy.
With that said the spa products are very high quality and the spa staff WILL give you the right stuff for your skin/hair, etc ... just be aware that upselling you is a part of your job and don't get suckered into buying stuff you don't need. If you do have the cash and want it though, don't hesitate, the products are very good.
Overall though I really loved the spa ... the staff was really nice and it felt wonderful to be pampered while on holiday.
Ports -- Bermuda
What a beautiful country. Staying for 2 days really allowed us to see a big chunk of the country. So clean, people so friendly, best beaches I've seen in the world so far. Be warned though that food is pretty expensive in Bermuda (restaurant dining), although very very good. Horseshoe bay (Bermuda's most famous beach) was very crowded although still very beautiful ... we saw many people on practically deserted lesser known beaches and we would probably do that next time.
Transportation for the day is 12 dollars which allows you to use all ferry's and busses in Bermuda all day long. The beach by the cruise ship in King's Wharf costs 10 or 15 dollars a person so I suggest heading away from the tourist trap and fining your own private paradise by bus.
Ports -- Nassau
What a dive. Nassau kind of felt like the ghetto near the port ... slimeballs trying to sell you everything from drugs to fake Cuban cigars. Keep your purse and wallets closely guarded and don't talk to strangers. The town around the port had alot of shopping but I suggest either going straight to Atlantis or taking one of the many excursions offered by the ship ... preferably an excursion that goes far away from Nassau itself.
Wife and i did Blackbeard's Beach Break and it was AMAZING. The island was very private and had the best beach I think of the whole vacation. Sandals was across the bay and also ferryed some of those resort guests to a private beach on the island as well. I can't stress enough how fantastic this beach was and the ferry ride from shore allowed us to get some awesome pictures. The only downside was that it was very short (2 and a half hours). Next time I think I might go to the Hilton resort near the port which supposedly has a very good deal and would give you more time on the beach.
A cab to Atlantis was 6 dollars per person so wife and I went there to walk around after the beach break. It was beautiful but in a fabricated way. Beautiful in the sense that Mandalay Bay/Four Seasons resort in Vegas is beautiful ... a very manicured theme park for the very very very rich. If your into that sort of thing you'll enjoy it, personally I liked the beach a zillion times better.
Port -- Coco Cay
RCCL's private island was very beautiful. Sheltered, you could walk out for literally miles and the water would stay shallow. The lunch barbecue was to die for (ribs, burgers, hot dogs, fruits, salads and more
A suggestion ... don't grab a lounger as soon as you get off the ship. If you walk for about 15 minutes down the beach you'll come to some very secluded areas of the beach that are so beautiful it will make your heart break. These areas ALSO have loungers many with their own shaded umbrellas.
Get to the beach EARLY. The morning was wonderful at Coco Cay but by 1:00 it was uncomfortably hot (a furnace). Because the water is so shallow, it heats up VERY quickly and did not really help alleviate the heat. Don't get me wrong I LOVE bathwater warm Caribbean water, but again, the water was so shallow it was literally HOT by 2:00. Go to the beach early you won't regret it. And bring lots of sun tan lotion, even with SPF 60 you will STILL likely get burned.
Expensive and STRONG! I loved the drinks they had so many different concoctions and they didn't go cheap on the booze. They were pricey though so if you like to drink be prepared to spend alot over your vacation. Wine is probably the most economical way to go, take the bottle with you after dinner (you are allowed to do this) and get a wine package. This will save you some serous money over one offing drink after drink.
Shopping/Promenade: The ship "mall" as I called it was a a great place to hang out. There were always sales going on ... if you plan on picking up souvenirs do so towards the latter half of the cruise. Alot of the clothing went on sale for 50 percent off towards the end of the cruise, as did many of the other items available on the ship.
It's open game in the smoking sections of the ship but we still got dirty looks sometimes. I felt sorry for the people in the balconies next to mine as I smoke ALOT. It's why I got a balcony but I really think that RCCL should have a "one side of the ship balconies is non smoking, and one side is" policy when allocating cabins just like they do in public areas of the ship. I know my neighbors did NOT like my smoking at all. A shame.
If you like slots you will lose money. Lots of it, these machines are tight. It's not even close to Vegas or Atlantic City in terms of the payouts. If you are a serious slots player they don't have rating machines for player cards. You have to tell the staff every time you put money into a machine if you want to be rated. This was too much of an annoyance so I didn't bother to get rated. The machines are old school with coin drops which was kind of fun at first but in the end was more annoying than anything as you will be constantly making trips to the cashier.
In all honesty I felt they could do a better job in the casino to make it player friendly. It was obvious they were making a killing in there, a few player perks would go a long way ... as it stands right now I doubt I will use their slot machines again ... bad odds and 0 comps. I can't speak for the table games but I heard the house rake at the poker table was ridiculous.
Cape Liberty was once again a mad house of traffic. I purposefully got a late flight and didn't bother with express departure. I preferred a leisurely buffet breakfast, didn't want any stress on the last day. The line up of cars to get into the port was so long even taxi's were having trouble getting in. So be prepared if you have a time sensitive flight that it may take a LONG time to get out of the port.
Basically none. Our toilet did get clogged at one point and several calls and one visit to the front desk achieved nothing. One word to our stateroom attendant though and it was fixed literally within minutes. Note to everyone: Your stateroom attendant will go above and beyond to see you happy ... as it can have a direct financial impact on them (tips). Our stateroom attendant really was a genuine nice guy, but this is something to keep in mind when you need service.
Sitting on the lower deck outside having a smoke while sailing back to Cape Liberty, a school of dolphins started following the ship and jumping out of the water (5 of them!). It was an amazing sight and something you just can't get in a theme park. I'll remember that until the day I die.
Also saw an aircraft carrier while sailing past Virginia (probaly we were passing Norfolk). We got buzzed by a fighter jet which was super cool.
A great vacation, one to remember. Having 2 extra days (trip was 9 nights instead of 7) made a HUGE difference in helping wife and I to relax. We did find the cruise to be far FAR more expensive than a land based from Canada would be after counting tips, paying for drinks, excursions and so forth. But the memories and experience were worth it.
I really liked the mix of sun and AC entertainment in the evenings ... I'm used to beach vacations in the Caribbean where the only AC available is in your hotel room ... being able to escape to the interior of the ship after getting badly burned in Coco Cay, this was a relief and a treat.
Really enjoyed my first cruise. This is a fantastic ship, with great food, great service and will give you great memories.