Explorer of the Seas, 9 night, Bermuda and Caribbean 6/24/10. This was our 5th time on Explorer and our 9th or 10th cruise in total and we're Diamond status with RCI. We're in our 40s, the kids are 17.5 and almost 22 yrs old. We had a balcony hump cabin and a PR cabin. We were welcomed back by familiar faces which makes stepping on Explorer, for us, like Going Home! We don't have a long schlep to get to Cape Liberty and we have a driver drive us and our 12+ pcs of luggage. It is a luxury vacation for us, but we have noticed some changes on board Explorer.
First, embarkation and debarkation were wonderful. Our limo driver queued around to the tent to drop our luggage with waiting porters. The line went quickly and within minutes we were pulling into a bay and our luggage was being tagged. No problem at Cape Liberty. Priority check in was the longer of the lines with many repeat cruisers. Still, it went smoothly and before we knew it we were climbing on board the bus to the ship. We immediately stopped at our cabin (this was around 12:30), found a steward and put our gown bag in the closet. Checked our table in the MDR and had it changed. Made our reservations at Portofino, saw Marcelo Arias who immediately remembered us from past cruises. Thank you again Marcelo for sending us cookies and chocolate strawberries, wonderful stuff. We stopped into Weekend Warrior because it was one bar we had never been to in the past. Christopher, the bar tender also remembered us immediately (we'd be hard to forget for Christopher, story need not be told). I put my carry on, on the bar and when we went to leave and I quickly grabbed it, I didn't know DH had put one of our cameras on the bar; the camera flew off the bar onto the floor, there went that camera pretty much as the display was shot. We had our under water camera with us and I had my newer but archaic 35MM. We brushed it off so it didn't ruin the beginning of our Cruise. We ran into folks from our Roll call there too! Muster Drill- no longer do they require you to carry your life vest.
We do expect to see a ship somewhat "loved", but there was definite wear and tear that should not exist with proper maintenance. If you're seasoned RCI cruisers, you could tell there was less staff cleaning the ship. The elevators always had grimy fingerprints on the doors which we thought was weird and could obviously lead to health risks. We were on Deck 8 hump cabin and the balcony was in horrible disrepair, peeling in dozens+ of spots and the paint would transfer to your clothing or skin (ewww). The railings are in desperate need of a drink of varnish, I can tell you they haven't been done or maintained in quite some time (years). The furniture in cabin, primarily the couch and chair fabric was imbedded with so much apparent to the eye dirt we covered them with towels just to sit down. Our stateroom attendant never removed them, so she must be aware this is a problem. The buttons on the television remote control and the safe are rubbed off. NOTE: If you are in your cabin and deadbolt the door, if someone [spouse, child] has a seapass to enter the cabin, the seapass card DOES unlock the dead bolted door. The public areas looked fine with the exception of some wear and tear that is expected with 3,500++ pax coming and going 365days a year. Many stools in the casino are blatantly fraying and need to be recovered, but most public areas are 'okay'. The exception is, the top of the smoke stack; and when you are sitting out on the pool deck and look up, the peeling paint is very noticeable. Okay, to a newbie cruiser they might never notice something like this, but to DH and myself, it was right in your face.
The Crew and Staff throughout the ship continue to be TOP NOTCH in service. Portofino, as always surpasses all expectations, enough said, it can't get better, although Simeon was not there to serve and entertain us as usual. The new menu is fine, but I think I liked the old one just a tad better. Our MDR wait staff, Rebecca and Shane were exceptional in every way we expect. They knew our names, likes, dislikes; they carried on conversation when appropriate, they were quick to fold a napkin or to push in your chair, eager to approach when they sensed something might not have been perfect with your food, really, kudos to the crew and staff. Our Bar Maid in the MDR was Julie Bravo, personality plus! She was great and made it her business to be there when we walked in empty handed. WJ breakfast food (for us) was the same every day. We stuck to freshly made omelets/eggs, toasted something (bagel, WW, english muffin. Don't attempt the bagel unless you get it toasted). Summer 07 the bacon was unrecognizable, this time it was good. lol. We went to JR's for lunch on the one rainy day- it was JR's, lol, we only eat it on board for fun. It was good, I consider it fast food. The best lunch is in the MDR. If you can find some time to break away from sunning, have a HAPPY SALAD. I love the way the salad station works. You walk up, there are a bunch of servers behind the salad bar. You tell them which lettuce you want and which ingredients you want; they walk around with you putting your likes in the bowl, including your dressing. Then they mix and chop it and serve it back to you on a plate. I called it my Happy Salad and the waiters got so excited! I think it is the greatest thing on board Explorer (food wise) today! The WJ food to me is just okay. I wouldn't write home about it . Same for the WJ dinner. We enjoy the MDR, but night one we stopped into WJ and enjoyed some vidalia onion tart pre-MDR dinner. Subsequent nights we stopped into WJ (to say hello to Marcelo, to have a quick appetizer), there were NO appetizers. We just don't get it ? Also, I recall linens on the tables for dinner in WJ, they seemed to have done away with this as well. DH was very disappointed that during breakfast the staff seemed to be more concerned about turning tables then about offering you coffee or juice in Windjammer. In the MDR we were flanked by some very interesting tables to our left and to our right. We as a family think RCI needs to politely explain to those who wear soccer garb or their farming clothes into the dining room that they need to adhere to a dress policy as others do and to kindly check out the other venues they offer to folks who chose to dress soccer or below casual style for their comfort, "for your convenience, the windjammer is located on deck 12". The way others dress does not affect my dining experience, but if scattered folks continue to dress like pigs and royal allows it, then that it what this CL will be known for.
The coffee; some will love it and there of those of us who do not. It is Seattles Best on board. It is strong coffee, somewhat bitter on the likes of a typical starbucks but moreso. The Cafe on the promenade always had good finger sandwiches and many love the pizza. Room service (have singles for tipping) was great. They typically told us a little longer than it was. We recall everything to be appetizer sized but most of what we ordered was meals, we were surprised. Again, staff is respectful and polite as they ask if they can enter your cabin to set down your room service tray.
Entertainment= excellent. Jimmy Rhodes did a good job as CD. Production shows were excellent, Ice Show we saw 2x because we always enjoy it. Love & Marriage game show always delights. We were VERY disappointed that even EXPERIENCED Ice Skaters and skating adults had to wear a HELMET; this is new since we were on Explorer (2 yrs ago). Why sign a waiver if they insist you wear a helmet? My kids did NOT skate and as a parent I was disappointed for them. I guess we wont be toting our ice skates any time soon. Since the May 22nd sail they put NEW carpet in the Game Room and added 3 Skee Ball games (DD was on the 5/22 so she knew what was new).
Oh! Here is a Bingo Tip: If you can't get the new fangled electronic ones, its your call. All the winners had the electronic devices that play for you...18 games per card!! (Instead of the 6 games per card on the paper ones) Also, I don't know why, but Jackpots are A LOT smaller than we recall! Are cheaper people cruising these days? LOL Come on folks, in 2007 the jackpot was up to $20K, this time is was $6K. (we didn't play on our 2008 cruise).
Laundry, On Day 6 I think it is (on a 9nt) you are offered to fill a plastic bag with socks, underwear, bathing suits and pajamas for $25 (we had a coupon for $10 off). My kids cabin attendant took the marked laundry AND a WRONG bag of laundry that was unmarked. Subsequently they ruined something of my daughters, I was NOT happy, still not happy, but they did give us a token credit to replace it. (we did not tip her cabin steward, but that's ok because DH tipped everyone else on board that I literally had to stop him when I realized what was going on)
They had a Deck Buffet BBQ at noon on the day we were in OSJ, I am not sure if it was in the Compass or not. We didn't even hear about it, but I was told it was announced at one of the shows the night before, and, maybe on the loud speaker? There were hamburgers, hot dogs, chicken, corn on the cob, grilled veggies, salad and desserts that I don't recall what they were. There was also a Promenade buffet for Canada Day, not announced in the Cruise Compass, so a word to folks who don't listen to the announcements; if you want to be in the know, listen to them. (we missed quite a few) There were corn dogs, chorizo, fish & chips [ice cold, eww], chicken sandwiches, a huge Canada Day Cake and ice cream and other things I don't remember.
Chair Hogs; should I post the picture? Day 2, 8am, large man holding 10 lounge chairs, not one person shows up until well after NOON. Funny thing is, as much as I was very annoyed, enough to take his picture, the loungers weren't even in a sunny spot (just a desirable location). The principal of it irked me so, that I just had to mention it. Why oh why do folks do this? It shows you lack any character whatsoever. More on the Pool Deck- I know some folks complain about the bar staff walking around pushing DOTD (Drink Of The Day), but some times it was the other way around and they didn't appear on deck until after 11:30-noon. Even then, they were very understated about their presence. There if you wanted but not in your face by any means.
We didn't use the Diamond lounge; we don't drink wine and figured why bother? We still love our Aquarium bar for comfort. We're not sure why but we do enjoy sitting at that bar. We didn't go to Schooner this time . I guess it was our 2007 crowd that made sing along at the piano so much fun. Or, it was the piano player!
Bermuda: You can purchase your transportation pass for Bermuda on board before you arrive if you know that you want a day pass or 2 day pass (if there longer). If not purchased on board, know that they only take CASH for the ferry/bus pass when you disembark at Kings Wharf. As usual, we took the #7 bus, this time we got off at Jobsons Cove which was BEAUTIFUL and had stairs to walk down to the beach. We stayed 30 minutes then took the bus another stop to Horseshoe (where everyone goes & we have been 4+ times before), it is beautiful and has amenities (bathrooms, drinks and food, chair/umbrella rentals). We dared to attempt to walk the beach further to Warwick Long Bay- whoever tells you that you can, had to climb and walk over 10' boulders and rock formations (one of the life guards came a-looking so I guess it isn't a good idea), well at least we tried.
St Maarten: We took the 3 minute ride on the water taxi in St Maarten to Great Bay and visited with the folks of the Firehouse and Beach Boy jet ski Rentals, Tell them their good friends from NJ with the blow up tubes sent you. They will take very good care of you. 4 chairs 2 umbrellas for $24 for the day. Some got them for $20 at a location closer to where the water taxi docks, where the beach area begins. We rented Jet ski's $55 for 35 minutes paying CASH. If you want to use your CC it is $60 for 35 minutes. They charged us $10 less the second time around. They even blew up our 4 tubes for us! We drank pain killers all day. I stayed shaded under an umbrella since I burned the 2 days before. Dwayne will not let you get up off your lounge chair for anything. They were very, very nice to us and hung out by our lounge chairs chatting when they could.
St Thomas: At last minute we changed our plans for St Thomas. I got sun burned day 2 and day 3 (even with sun block), so by St Thomas I was not feeling the beach scene. I also knew we wouldn't be able to do the beach in the AM, then find the oldest Synagogue in the US and then go (& enjoy) lunch and shopping. I eliminated the beach. I never thought I would do this on St Thomas, but knowing in 6 months we'd be back made it easy. We climbed the hill in 95 degrees to the temple and surprisingly really, really enjoyed our time there! Then we strolled through the jewelry shops. I won't get into the cosmic story of walking into a shop unknowing that it was the shop I was referred to by a good friend here in the states that sells watches to them. DH bought me a GORGEOUS diamond bracelet. We had lunch at a place called Gladys, it was very good. [food excellent, cocktails not so much]
OSJ: is OSJ, we find nothing great about it. We walked to the outlets, shopped in Burberry and Coach. Be leery of the D&B outlet and just know that their merchandise is "seconds" and something will be wrong with your bag. ie: it can be as insignificant as missing the pockets on the inside to more significant- the bag I was about to purchase, I noticed the leather handles were "off" and of different size. I asked her to take out all her stock of that bag and they were all alike. The D&B zebra patterned stuff all the black parts were discolored. I have Coach Outlets nearby to my home, but still managed to buy there and not in D&B. My daughter bought a beautiful Burberry jacket for half off retail. Don't be fooled by the native folks in OSJ offering you a "Tour to the shops", you can easily walk it even if it is very hot (bring a washcloth with you if you sweat). We stopped off at Barrachina, where the Pina Colada was invented in 1963- well, census says mine at home are better! haha But, in any event I am glad we finally had a pina colada there. Now I know I'm not missing much!
Cute Stuff: Like Build a Bear workshop, they have some kind of stuff your (sea) pet. I do not know the cost, but even saw some adults holding some. I found the jewelry store on board to have MUCH LESS inventory then in the past, although I thought the line of diamond crown and anchor stuff was "Cool". I wouldn't wear it daily, and I typically prefer pieces I can enjoy daily or more often then just on my cruises. They also continue to have temporary tattoos on the promenade for the little folks or those who crave the ink!! haha
Internet: Hmm, we didn't use it this time. A first for everything. My daughter used it and said it was painstakingly slow. Since we were on Deck 8 near the Internet (known as: Royal Caribbean Online) we often tucked in there to wait for our kids. We noticed a lot of frustration, lol. One lady was entertaining as she went from computer to computer to computer in hopes of one being faster. Boy was she annoyed. I guess this reaffirmed why I chose not to do my Live From this time around. This will sound odd to some seasoned cruisers, but I found the old Cyber Cabin internet set-up to be better for me. I could use it in my cabin and although a slow connection, I could click on post and upload while I was doing something else in my cabin, I prefer being able to multitask.
This is what we drank on board and the prices: Grey goose on the rocks $7.00 French martini $8.00 (Ketel one) Mojito $6.00 Malibu Baybreeze $6.00 Mango Mai Tai $6.00 Bahama Mama $8.25 Mango Mojito $5.75 Mimosa $7.75 Malibu $5.50 Pina Colada $6.25 Peach Daiquiri $6.75 Frozen Mojito $7.00
Mocha Berry Coffee $6.00 Bottle Pellegrino $6.75
We are not wine drinkers, so I can't help with that.
To close, Explorer is still a wonderful and beautiful ship even though she needs TLC. The Crew and Staff are fabulous and make your cruise experience that much more pleasurable. Passenger demographics are extremely varied. Cape Liberty is a smooth port and no complaints from us that it is lackluster as some note. [It is somewhere that you are just passing through] and ridiculous to think it should be anything but what it is. Sailing out of the northeast this time of year was uneventful, probably one of the smoother sailings we have been on out of Bayonne. Weather in the islands was good as well, although predictions were sketchy.
We are very much looking forward to our 14nt. Holiday Cruise on Explorer this year! Cheers, Enjoy all your future cruises!