We are frequent cruisers and for this trip, we were travelling with our two children (DS-5 and DD-4) and my parents. In general, we're very laid back cruisers and don't need much from a vacation to make it enjoyable. We had a great time on the Explorer but did want to stop by with a review and some quick pros and cons:
Embarkation Port- Bayonne, NJ. What an unorganized mess! When we arrived at around 11:30am, there was no port staff available to direct us to the appropriate place to drop off our luggage and then park the car. We unloaded our car and were told to then drive the car to the lot and pick up a shuttle. So, we all got back into the car, parked and started walking (RIGHT BACK TO WHERE WE HAD ALL JUST BEEN). There is no real need for the shuttle, since the terminal is RIGHT THERE, but there was no-one around to tell us where to walk. We started walking back to the terminal and made it almost all the way back when someone pointed at us to go the other way and pick up a shuttle. Again, no clear signage or instruction as to where to go Once inside the terminal, things moved more smoothly. Arriving back at Bayonne was a MUCH better experience that we had during departure.
Check-in was a breeze and, before long, we were on the ship. The staff was friendly and helpful and we were able to straighten out our dinner seating (my parents weren't seated at our table, as requested) and room key needs without any hassles.
Cabin - Our room (Royal Family Suite) was amazing and our Suite Attendant, Fox, was outstanding and attentive! By far the largest cabin and balcony we've ever had on a ship. There was MORE than enough storage space throughout the cabin to unpack all of our stuff, and then some! The balcony had 4 padded lounge chairs and a small table. We really wanted to dine on the deck one night, but never quite got around to doing so. The Living Area was large and comfortable. The bathrooms were standard-sized for a cruise (except that one of them had a VERY DEEP tub), but there were two, so that worked out well with the four of us.
Concierge - While we did not utilize the Concierge or the Concierge Lounge too frequently, it was a nice amenity to have access to and Carlos was great at accomodating the few requests we made.
Kids Stuff - Our kids would not participate in the Adventure Ocean programming (their loss--it seemed like a good time). That being said, there were not very many things for kids their age to do on the ship if they were not involved in the AO program (kids must be 6+ to climb the rock wall or participate in the Deck 13 Sports activities). They were most looking forward to dancing, however the Chamber Dance Club was not open until 10pm and was then for "Adults" only. There was no other music venue on the ship that played current music, although once in a while the DJs were set up by the pools. One night, there was supposed to be a "family hour" in the club for kids from 7:30pm - 8:30pm, but the DJ never showed up and there were quite a few upset kids waiting around to dance (ours included!). They ended up rescheduling the event a few days later, but it was more of a dance competition than an open dance hour. Not quite what we had hoped.
Promenade - The Promenade is truly a spectacular part of this ship. One that we feel was totally underutilized during the trip. There should be parades and events in that "street" at least once per day (and not always late at night). One night, we caught the event held in the street. The kids would have LOVED IT, but it was at 11pm. The Promenade Cafe was a great find on the ship and, for a few days in the beginning, they were serving the most amazing cookies ever! I believe they were called "Mudslide Cookies". If you see them, eat them.
What's with all the seminars? - Just a side note--I'm not sure if every sailing has the same daily events or if the events are tailored toward the cruising demographic for the week, but holy cow! there were ALOT of seminars being held throughout the week. I mean, ALOT of seminars. Maybe it was b/c the average age of the cruisers on this sailing seemed to be in their 70s? I don't know. A whole lot of seminars, though.
Pool Deck- We took advantage of the reserved seating area and so we never had a problem finding a seat by the pool. With the 2 pools located on the main deck (and the Solarium pool for the 16 and older crowd), the actual pools were never too crowded. With the exception of the Sexy Man and Belly Flop contest, there was not a whole lot of pool deck entertainment during the day, which was surprising. Even though we're not "participaters", we always enjoyed watching the various activities that usually take place each day by the pool. We missed that on this trip.
Food - All of the food was good, especially in the Windjammer. My husband had read about the Honey Stung Chicken and, when it was served, it did not disappoint him. Unfortunately we only found it on the buffet once (but I saw it was available via room service throughout the cruise).
Each morning at the Buffet they had a chaffing dish of scambled eggs, and one with scrambled eggs with something (tomatoes, ham, etc.) Twice during our trip those eggs were mixed with baby shrimp. Seriously, baby shrimp?! We thought that to be strange (although perhaps its popular in other regions). Even stranger was that, one morning, I saw some guy picking through the dish to put all the shrimp on his plate!
We did not visit Johnny Rockets or use room service. Our servers in the MDR (Gladwin and Carolina) were fabulous and great with the kids (special shout-out to Kal, the head waiter, who was more attentive than any maitre d' or head waiter we've ever had on any prior sailing and who stopped by each night to entertain my kids with a magic trick). We were not that impressed with the menus in the MDR, though. They seemed to lack a certain level of variety and we were not looking forward to any particular meal as we have on prior cruises.
Ports--I did the ziplining tour in PR and the America's Cup race in St. Maarten. Both tours were lots of fun and I'm glad to have participated in them both. Tip for anyone doing the ziplining--when you get on the bus to get to the forest, they try to sell you bottled water for $1. When you get to the forest, there is a bathroom facility (unisex and with no stall doors) and you also have the chance to buy water (now for $2). When you finish the ziplining tour, they give you a bottle of water for free. If you can wait, wait for it.
Shows- Due to tired kids and late show times, we did not see all of the productions, but Jeff the Juggler was great and the Ice Show was outstanding. Possibly the best show I've seen on a cruise ever. We did get to use the ice rink toward the end of the trip. The kids were allowed to participate, as well, so that was fun but MY GOD those skates hurt your feet!
Rock Wall - I tried and failed. But boy was it fun! The staff were encouraging and helpful and there wasn't too much of a line when we went. Definitely worth checking it out.
Overall- We had a great trip. I think we prefer Norwegian Cruise Lines for its "VIP" amenities and "freestyle" concept, but RCL was a great time and we would do it again if the price and itinerary were right.
I'm sure I'm missing a few things I wanted to write about, but that's all the time I have for now. Happy cruising everyone.