Even though we are experienced cruisers, this was our first cruise out of Caribbean/Mexican routes. After being "crystallized", I was not expecting a lot, but we were WOWED by what RCCL had to offer for the $$$. After printing out all documentation, boarding was a breeze. We booked this cruise very late & had to take a guaranty of ocean view or better. We got a balcony cabin & at first I thought they made a mistake. No, it wasn't and this was the beginning of a wonderful cruise.
HURRICANE EARL: Everyone was worried ab/ encountering this hurricane but our fearless Capt. Olaf masterfully manuevered the ship out of danger by speeding ahead of it & docking in Portland one day early. EARL came & went taking with it all the humidity & leaving us with bee-U-tee-ful weather for sightseeing. Applause for Capt. Olaf.
CABIN: Our cabin used every inch of space for storage. We pushed our luggage beneath the kingsize bed & had plenty of room for clothes, toiletries, literature, etc. Our cabin steward, Wendell, was fair. The few requests we made were slow in coming, but the towel animals were cute. The beds were very soft & comfy. We slept soundly & the sea was like glass the entire trip. Bring your own toiletries as the days of shampoos, etc. are gone.
SHIP DECOR: Beautiful decor of gold, statues and photos of rock stars adorned the hallways. I used them as landmarks to find our cabin. The ship is huge & the Royal Promenade was gorgeus with a cafe & stores. As you enter the casino, look down at the floor for a surprise. It had plenty of slot & video machines along with the usual casino games. Everything was maintained spotlessly. The Palace Theater was also lovely.
DINING: We chose On Your Own Time dining which was on another floor & proved to be quite beneficial. Our waiter was Sanatan & asst. was Maja. They were both very good except I told Sanatan he has to speak up a bit. The food was a solid good but I wouldn't go out of my way for it. I sent back the tough angus steak & Sanatan replaced it with the best gnocchi I'd ever eaten. RCCL makes a valient attempt to appeal to every taste. They offer dishes for vegetarians, healthy fare and Indian fare. You don't have to gain weight if you don't want to, but the cafe cookies were awesome. Also, there's a Ben & Jerry's parlor.
CAFE: Actually the cafe deserves special recognition. They serve Seattle's Best coffee and cookies, cakes, sandwiches & pizza all hours of the day & night. If I gained weight, it was because of the cookies.
GYM: Overstocked w/ treadmills & aerobic machines. Also, complete selection of free wgts. & wgt. machines. Early stretch at 7:45 followed by Walk-A-Mile at 8:45. Also, they had walk for the Make A Wish foundation toward the end which was very worthwhile. If you crave more, try the rock climbing wall or ice skating lessons at Studio B.
PORTOFINO SPECIALTY RESTAURANT: At $20 extra per person, it was not worth it. I had osso bucco & DH had risotto. They were both good, but not worth the extra cost. BTW, formal dresscode is NOT enforced. Since we brought on extra clothes, we complained at the front desk & received lip service. So if you don't want to overburden your luggage, ladies, black pants & a nice blouse & guys, dockers & Tommy Bahama. You won't be asked to leave. Unless you LIKE to dress up, that's individual tastes, but I'll never overpack again.
ENTERTAINMENT: The usual consisting of a dance troupe, singers, comedians. Don't miss the ice show!!! Wonderful!!! But get on line early in the cruise and get tix. They go fast. Also get there early before doors open to get good seats. Best 55 mins. you'll spend. Standouts in the Palace Theater were Tibor & Eva. They were professional dancers. Tibor swung Eva about like a rag doll. They were a sight to behold. Chris Murphy was social director & he was cute. Very funny guy & quick witted. Go see the Love & Marriage gameshow. That was very funny. Also, Robert Bruce at the piano in the Schooner Bar was terrific. He imitated Louis Armstrong & played any request. He is very, very talented. If you follow the Compass newsletter everyday, you will be busy every second of the day. Or if you want to cozy up with a good book, you can do that, too. Unfortunately, the library is not too well stocked. By the time I got there, all the good books were taken out.
CONCLUSION: I'd go back on Explorer in a NY minute. They pride themselves on being the friendliest ship at sea. They certainly are as you encounter a "hello","good morning" at every turn. This cruise was NOT fully booked & there was plenty of room to manuever wherever we went. We prefer to travel when school reopens & as a result, there were not many children on this cruise.