Having been on a few cruises out of the NYC area I have come to really really like the idea of no flying. It was great to see Royal Caribbean having cruises this winter as until now Norwegian was the only choice and to me that is no choice. When the price dropped dramatically in November 2010 I jumped at this.
This was my 20th cruise and I was concerned after a year ago spending an incredible 2 weeks on the Paul Gauguin that the Explorer of the Seas would be a letdown so I lowered my expectations. I had been on a Voyager class ship in 2004 and thought it was mediocre. Well folks, I needed to re-adjust my expectations even lower as this ship was pretty disappointing.
Embarkation was insane - once I got to the cruise port it took 90 minutes to get on board. Evidently a lot of this was due to a large wedding that was taking place before hand. Even traffic to the port was unusually heavy.
Our cabin was an outside cabin on deck 2. It was fine other than when the beds are put together there is very little room to get off and on unless you slide to the front. You no longer get shampoo/razor etc and the bathroom is typical. What was not typical however was the toilets the first week were spotty - sometimes they worked, sometimes they did not - turns out this was a ship wide problem. The shower the entire cruise - for many people - went from hot to cold during the shower. This was ship wide. Also twice they shut down power/elevators as I was ready to leave the ship late morning. This left many wheelchair people stuck on the ship for a bit. A warning would have been nice.
I even got stuck in an elevator when they shut them down but was out within 30 seconds. A lady went nuts in the elevator when it happened. Freak out like I have never seen.
Breakfast and lunch I ate at the Windjammer on deck 11. It was decent, not great. I met a long haul truck driver who likened it to truck stop food. The pancakes were the same as served in the dining room which surprised me.
As usual there was good and bad.
Dinner we mostly ate in the dining room. For the most part the food was very good. A few meals were spectacular and a couple downright lousy. One dinner we ate at the Windjammer and it was good. Except for the last night desserts were unremarkable. Soups were very good.
I only did one shore excursion - Samana - I did this because it was the only way to get to an island which was quite nice. However at $44 pp it was a total ripoff. It would have been nice to offer free water/iced tea, etc. For $88 my wife and I got a boat ride and a chair. I cannot remark on other excursions as we usually do things on our own.
Very good selection. We went to Labadee - did not get off as 6000 people sharing this port did not appeal to me as there was another ship there. I did notice however that this port has been built up and it did look nice.
Samana, D.R. - nothing special, many people did not leave the ship.
St. Thomas - great port, always love it here. Great beaches and awesome shopping. It did not disappoint.
St. Kitts - this port surprised me how nice the island was, nice beaches and cheaper cigarettes and liquor than any other port on this cruise.
Antigua - our only bad weather day. I am sure it has great beaches but beware the crazy taxi hawkers!!!
St. Maarten - Orient Beach is really as spectacular as you might have heard.
Shopping here is very good also.
Entertainment on the ship was great if you are 80+. 3 of the 4 shows were nothing more than singing old songs with some dancing. The guest entertainers were very good however and there was a gentlemen named Pedro Dela Llana who is a magnificent guitar player whom I listened to as often as I could during the evening at different locations. I will say that the ICE shows are GREAT and should not be missed. Activities I felt were lacking. This was a complaint by many.
Yes you had your typical pool games/the quest/love and marriage/trivia etc etc but nothing more.
If you are into collecting art/sports memorabilia the only Peter Max gallery at sea and Steiner Sports were on board and I thought the auctions were well done and fun. Not pushy either and I won 2 signed Peter Max posters in raffles.
Paintings were expensive but hey - at least they were presenting originals.
Casino was fun, there were 2 black jack tournaments, a win a free cruise slot and Texas Hold 'em tournaments as well. Nice big casino for a ship and my wife hit for $1020 on the last day so I am a bit prejudiced here!
The layout of the ship leaved something to be desired. I hate the Promenade and there is no easy way to get from the back to the front unless you were on decks 4/5/11. The shops had mediocre/typical quality stuff though the jewelry store was below average I felt.
Okay - you might be thinking - this guy hated this cruise but you could not be more wrong. All my issues are with the ship and Royal Caribbean. Would I take this cruise again, YES in a heartbeat. Why? Because I had a a great time.
The SERVICE on this ship was spectacular. My cabin steward and wait staff at the restaurant were incredibly above average and simply awesome. Everything I did and everywhere I went the PEOPLE on the ship were great. They could not do enough for us. The strength of this ship is quite simply - the staff. Great job by all.
Bottom line is that if you want a nice cruise at an affordable price this is a great choice. Yes the cruise line has somewhat gone downhill a bit but the staff on board more than make up for any corporate penny pinching.
I will probably be on the same cruise next year.