When emigrating to the "Nation of Why Not", be aware that children and teens are not welcome.
I'm only 17 years old, but this was my 9th cruise, (on 6 cruise lines from 7 departure ports), so please don't judge me for my age.
I laughed out loud when I saw that the Explorer of the Seas was an editor's pick for best teen cruise. Obviously the editors aren't 17 years old. But more on that later...
...ARRIVAL AT CAPE LIBERTY...
Bayonne is easily accessible from New Jersey but not teasingly far from New York. There are signs on Route 440 that mark the entrance. Once there, drive about a mile down the pier, which is desolate except for a new condominium building nearby. Then prepare to wait. I've cruised out of Manhattan, Brooklyn and Cape Liberty. Manhattan is by far the worst, but Cape Liberty is not much better. There was a 30-minute traffic jam getting in to the drop-off point. We waited 90 minutes at Manhattan once, so it certainly could have been worse. But it was nowhere near as fast or efficient as Brooklyn either.
"Cape Liberty" is actually a conglomeration of old rotting military buildings. You drop your luggage and passengers off at a tent, then snake back around in between buildings to the parking lot, which is actually closer to the ship than the drop-off point is! We then waited about 20 minutes in the hot tent to get through security, which was just inside one of the buildings. The car-parker met us in line at the tent.
Thankfully we are Crown & Anchor members, so we were whisked over into the VIP line for check-in (which was only about a 10-minute wait) while the rest of the passengers formed a line that almost entirely filled the building. Way less efficient than check-in at Brooklyn.
Then it's on to the bus that drives about 1000 feet over to the ship. Port facilities are lacking, so everyone has to enter through the "port-of-call" gangways on Deck 1 - not very glamorous at all. This also meant that the midship elevators were unbearably slow the first day.
From when we entered the port to when we were settled in our cabin took about 2 hours.
The ship is okay. 11 years ago it (along with the rest of the Voyager class) was the king of the industry. But today, it's really just average. It doesn't feel that big either.
The elevators are in two separate banks, 4 at each (3 forward). 8 at the same bank, or even 6 at the same bank, would probably have been better. But instead elevators were painfully slow and completely crowded any time near dinner or a show.
Cabins are EXTREMELY small. The only cabin that I can remember that was this small was on the Vision of the Seas, so it must be a RCI policy to pack passengers in like sardines. We had an interior, Promenade-view cabin. There were two couches in the room, one was so hard I couldn't even sit on it, the other was worn and stained a bit. There was not enough room to walk between the bed and the wall without scarping each. We had separate beds, but there was not enough room to walk between them.
Our cabin steward Durgesh was one of the best we've ever had. It was only his third week since being promoted to cabin steward but he was phenomenal, especially considering what he had to deal with in the cabin next to ours. Two 18-20ish guys were under House Arrest for possession of drugs, they must've wrecked the room because they completely shattered the table about half way through the cruise. (Despite them being under house arrest, we spotted them in disguise wondering around the ship almost every day.)
Entertainment was above average, but still the standard fare. 2 comedians, a magician, a juggler, 2 concerts (both 50's music) and 3 production shows. Entertainment changes too often to be a good gauge of the ship though.
I had heard that the food on Royal Caribbean is sickening. I found it to be just fine, however. Of course, all of the cruise lines have lowered their standards in the past few years, but it was still very good food. Our waiter Nicole and her assistant Esteban were very good. I was also pleasantly surprised to see our head waiter picking up plates and sweeping bread crumbs off the table. Usually the head waiter is too snobby to do the dirty work, but not this one.
A few comments and fore-warnings about dinner though:
Dinner is rather rushed on this ship. We had Main Seating (6:00 PM) and some nights we were already ordering dessert by 7:00. Most nights we were out of there by 7:30, occasionally 7:45. For a cruise ship dinner, that's a bit short. Our waiter took the 1st person's order after handing the 10th person their menu... she didn't leave in between to let us discuss.
Also, there is a photographer that will visit the dining room at least 4 times during the cruise. She pops out from behind the corner as soon as your food arrives. This means moving plates, silverware, glasses taking straws out of glasses and other annoyances like that - as soon as your food is placed in front of you. Very annoying and unprofessional. We finally told her not to bother the 2nd to last night.
Yes, there is a curfew. 1:00 AM. (Unless you're physically in Optix - the Teen disco - in which case you can stay out until 2:00.)
I read many reviews that the curfew was not too strictly enforced, but for this cruise at least, they were dead wrong! Three security guards found us at 12:57, and waited until exactly 1:00 to intercept us the first night as were sitting on a bench on Deck 12. They actually then stalked us back to our cabins. We got in to a glass elevator and decided to go down to the Cafe, but they watched us from the other glass elevator across the centrum so that once we arrived at deck 5, we decided to just go back up to our rooms. I went back out with my sister (19 years old) at 1:30 and was refused service at first because I was out past curfew. My 19-year-old sister, who was also carded, was not enough of a guardian for me to be allowed out.
Normally I'm not a trouble-maker, and I know that the adults reading this think that we must have been doing something wrong to be caught. Well I swear that all we were doing was talking. Oh well, you don't believe me...
There are separate groups for 12-14 and 15-17, but they all share the same facility - Optix - and the same teen staff. Typically 10:00-12:00 is for 12-14, then 12:00-2:00 is for 15-17, although times do vary. One group is forcibly kicked out when it's the other group's time.
On past ships, I always made friends and we then hung out somewhere else where we could actually talk instead of putting up with strobe lights and ear-piercing rap music. But because of the curfew, on the Explorer there was no other option. It was put up with the teen disco crap or go back to your room and sleep. I'll be 18 next time I cruise, but even though I won't have a curfew anymore, I still won't cruise with RCI again because of the line's strict curfew and its often-hostile enforcers.
One incident was serious enough that I needed to meet with the Security Director Willy Carson. He was very nice, and mentioned to me that during the summer the ship takes on volunteer security guards that are not well-trained and speak little to almost no English. He also said that this ship in particular has even more security (and stricter security) because it leaves from New Jersey. No other cruise line that I know of has a curfew. And to the suits at the Miami office who might stumble upon this review, I want to remind you that if you continue to anger and alienate cruisers when they're 15, they'll probably be on Carnival when they're 25 (and 30, 35, 45, 60, 80...)
When we booked the cruise last summer it was nearly $1800 for an inside cabin. Since then it came down about $500, but I think it's still worth out to fly to Florida. The cruises are much cheaper and the class of people is much higher.
(Did I mention that this ship is the New Jersey of the Seas? Slobs in wife-beaters walking around everywhere, flannel shirts in the dining room on formal night... I never really noticed the ship being dirty, so I have to say that the crew seemed to keep up with the sloppy crowd very well.)
All in all, not a bad cruise. But teens, I would suggest the Caribbean Princess from Brooklyn if you want freedom. Surprisingly, Princess - a line known for catering to adults - gave us teens a lot more freedom and trust than RCI did).