We came across a tip that I thought was too good to be true. A cruiser recommended staying at the Best Western in Newark, NJ, and it was the best advice that we got! We stayed there the night before our cruise sailed (4/28/11), and all we paid for was the night's stay! They kept our car for the ten days that we were away and shuttled us to and from the port! It was the most convenient way to get to the ship. We paid $175, including tax, for a King room. The hotel itself isn't in the nicest area by far, but when my car was delivered back to me it was perfect, albeit dusty. The people were very nice and the driver's couldn't have been more friendly. I definitely recommend this to anyone going out of Cape Liberty. Their phone number is 973-621-6200, and the website is bestwesternnewjersey.com.
Anyway! The ship!
The Explorer was wonderful from the moment we stepped on. The staff is unbelievable and really to be commended! I didn't walk by a staff member for the entire 10 days that didn't smile or greet me in some way. To say that they are a friendly bunch is a serious under-statement. Our cabin steward (Mohammed Said) was friendly, efficient and very nearly ghost-like! Every time we left and came back to the cabin, we knew he had been there, but we hardly ever saw him. He did a great job of making sure that we had everything we needed whenever we were there and kept us stocked in ice, which was a major plus for us.
The common areas were very clean - we saw someone wiping or polishing or sweeping everywhere we looked. The pools and hot tubs were wonderful and well-maintained. Try jumping into the hot tub around 6:30PM when everyone is at dinner - very peaceful and quiet. I was amazed at how alone we could feel on the ship with over 3000 cruisers, not to mention staff, on board. We were always able to find a quiet spot to sit in a deck chair and just stare at the waves. It was great and a nice surprise.
We loved the 9 hole mini golf course and the ping pong table. We spent a lot of time in the video arcade and the game room, too, as we weren't the types to sit in a bar all day drinking. We had a few by the pool somedays, but that wasn't the main focus of our vacation.
We loved the wait staff in the MDR and the Windjammer (Carlos and Saudi especially). Everyone was very anxious to please. The food was really good, I thought. But as long as I wasn't cooking I wasn't going to complain about anything! We had every breakfast and a lot of lunches at the Windjammer and enjoyed the buffets. I was happy to find that we could have iced tea, water and lemonade for lunch and dinner that was complimentary. Definitely try the salad bar at lunch in the MDR. Completely worth coming in out of the sun for a while.
We had purchased the soft drink package before our cruise and a refillable cup was waiting in our room when we got there. Only coke, diet coke and sprite were included in the plan, though, so that's something to think about if you're going to buy. It turned out to be about $62 each, but well worth it for us - we're big soda drinkers. Saved us a ton of money overall.
Now for the cabin!
We booked a Junior Suite and had room 1312. Perfect location - one flight up to the windjammer and the pool deck. The cabin is on the hump of the ship, midship, on the 10th deck. It couldn't have been more perfect for us. The room is very spacious, lots of storage! They say it has a walk in closet, but really...no. We could put our large suitcases in there, or we could have stood in there and closed the door, but that's about the extent of it! "Walk in" was a bit of an exaggeration, trust me, but it was sufficient enough for us to hang our dress clothes.
The bed was a little on the hard side, but comfortable, and it had to be a King. It was great to come back to the cabin after a long hot day and slip into those cool soft sheets, and there was an extra pillow in the closet if you needed it. The bathroom was small but had everything we needed, and we loved that we had a bathtub. It was deep and much nicer then having to stand in a tiny cubicle to shower as in smaller cabins.
The one thing that I would strongly suggest you bring is a power strip, especially if you are going to be charging your phone, camera, iPod, etc. There are only really two useable outlets in the room and none in the bathroom at all.
There's a mini-fridge filled with their stuff, so we took out their goodies and stuck them in a drawer for the week, and used the fridge for our things. We told our cabin steward where to find the stuff and what we'd done so that he wouldn't think we used them and charge us. He was fine with it and left the things where we had put them. We replaced them on the morning we left and had no trouble with charges.
Try it - you will love it! We made reservations before we left to go there the third night of our cruise and we enjoyed it so much we made reservations to go back on the eighth night. The food and the service were both beyond reproach! I had the fillet the first night and osso buco the second. Both were amazing. My boyfriend ordered the t-bone steak both times we went. Try the shrimp risotto as your appetizer - delicious.
Of course, we had to try Johnny Rocket's as well. Huge, yummy burgers and great milk shakes! Well worth the $4.95 per person cover charge (drinks are extra, too). Great onion rings, too.
Hope this helped! We had a great time and can't wait to go back soon!
We shopped a little in the Dockyard area, and spent most of our time at the Glassworks where we bought Christmas ornaments and watched the glass blowing demonstrations. So much fun!
I wouldn't go out of my way to back to St. Maarten at all. The tour took us past nothing but slums and the beach was so gross that we didn't want to even touch anything. Couple that with a surly bus driver and you have the makings of a crappy day.
If we would have known better, we would have taken a water taxi to downtown and shopped and went to the beach there without bothering to take a tour. They had nice shops and beach right there downtown and the scenery was much nicer then anything we saw!
They had the best prices on liquor out of all the islands we visited.
The water was unreal. It's hard to believe that those colors - every single shade of blue - exist in real life. Coming from New York, we're used to our water at the beach as being on the brown side, so being able to see my feet in four feet of water was amazing!
Definitely a place worth spending more time in.