We're in our 50s; cruised with son and his 17-year-old friend and another couple, good friends in their 50s. Son's friend and couple were first-time cruisers but are already talking about 'next time.' We're all from NE Ohio and drove the day before embarkation to Parsippany, NJ. Stayed overnight in the cheap but adequate Days Inn; had a short drive to the pier, arriving around 10:30 AM. Check-in was easy and we were soon in the Windjammer having lunch prior to 12 noon. Spent the rest of the day exploring the ship with the first-time cruisers in our group and watching the priceless expressions on their faces. They were awed by the R Promenade costume parade the first night. We cruised on Explorer 2 years ago on the Canada/NE itinerary, so we were familiar with her. We had a balcony on Deck 7 just aft of the hump but since we had an extra person this time we opted for 2 smaller cabins on Deck 8, 3 cabins altogether. Explorer did seem to have been spiffed up in drydock earlier this year. A beautiful ship!
This was a fabulous vacation for us. We spent the first 10 months of last year caring for my elderly, terminally ill mother in our home. This vacation was just what we needed!
The first whole day was spent at sea, getting to Bermuda. We slept in, had a leisurely breakfast in the MDR, shopped, read, napped and just relaxed. We had all of our evening meals in the MDR, Da Gama, table 474 (I think), a ten-topper right next to the window. Our tablemates were a family of 4 who only joined us once. JoRhonda from Trinidad and Tobago was our main waiter (waitress) and Corinna from Romania was our ass't waiter (waitress). Corinna was always upbeat and smiling, very fun, but JoRhonda was at the top of her game. We enjoyed excellent service every evening in the MDR and these ladies kept us coming back. Felt like we were leaving friends behind when the cruise ended.
Must also mention our cabin attendant, Gerald. He was very friendly, always asking if we needed anything. He took care of the teenager's cabin with a smile and said they were pretty tidy for teens (Aw, I'll bet he says that to all of the pax!). Our cabin was always clean; we enjoyed the towel animals every night.
We loved the shows, the Ice show, the comedians, the juggler, the singers, and Jimmy Rhodes, the CD. He was great! Lots of energy; he really seemed to enjoy his job.
There were a few things on this cruise that we really enjoyed that we didn't remember from our cruise 2 years ago-->Captain's welcome champagne reception on the R Promenade; 70s disco party on the R Prom; the Canada Day luncheon/huge cake on the Promenade again.
Should state that our kids didn't care for the children's programs; they felt that there wasn't much for kids their age (17) but we had to sign for them to ice skate, climb the rock wall, etc. While they enjoyed the cruise enormously, they felt they were 'in-between,' not yet 18 but too old for the kids program.
As I said earlier, last year was very sad and stressful, and we didn't take a vacation. I think the combination of a beautiful ship, a great son, fantastic friends and outstanding service, food, entertainment, shore trips, ports, everything that makes cruising fun, made for a wonderful, fabulous, relaxing, exhilerating, superb vacation! Can't wait to do it again.
*There was only one problem* 'Express debarkation.' It was very poorly done, not at all coordinated. We did this 2 years ago and it was effortless-->we waited in Studio B until our group # was called, we walked off the ship and onto the shuttle, and were in our car and on the road by 9:00 AM. This time, we found jammed elevators. We were supposed to go to Deck 1 but when the elevator doors opened we were told by staff that we weren't cleared to leave the ship and we couldn't get off the elevator. We were told to take the elevator to Deck 2 to wait with the other passengers. Our party had to take several different elevators at different times and we had to split up. It was very warm and crowded, with people and luggage on stairs up to Deck 3. What a mess! RCCL really needs to fix this. (Notice that there wasn't a drop-down box to rate this part of the cruise!) *But that's our only complaint; won't let it ruin our great memories of this trip.*