This was our 6th Cruise with RCI and our second on Explorer of the Seas. I am not going to describe the public room and cabins in detail as this has been done very well already but rather give you my impression on returning to EOS after just over 3 years.
We arrived at check in early around 11.30 and were asked to sit in a small waiting area as the main check in area was still full from the first batch of passengers. We sat here for around 15 minutes before being allowed to go and check in. This worked well as the desks were nearly all free and we could check in in right away. We were then told to join a line that wound its way around the hall for non US citizens to go through immigration our hearts sank on seeing this line but RCI had enough of the automated machines available and the line moved quickly so the whole check in and immigration process took no more than 30 mins which is very acceptable when you consider how long the lines can be at an airport.
Our first feeling on boarding EOS was one of comfortable familiarity. She feels welcoming and familiar so we were quickly able to move past the people who had boarded for the first time and where obviously awestruck by her scale and beauty. We found the Adventure Ocean Desk which again was located in its usual position on the embarkation deck for my 7 year old daughter to get her YEP (Youth Evacuation Program. This program means that if there was a real emergency on the ship the kids in the youth program would be brought straight to their muster station by a member of the Adventure Ocean staff) wristband. We chatted briefly to the team member manning the desk but felt she was reading from a script which said this is embarkation day, this is what I say and did not appear to be really interested in my daughter.
After this we found our cabins and dropped our bags. The cabin was clean but not sparkling as there were some dust balls left on the carpets and it was obvious the carpets had seen a bit of life with the stains and marks on them. We had 2 inside cabins near the stern on deck 6 by choice. I have found that because of the design limitations set by the Promenade deck there are only 2 banks of elevators -- on either end of it the midship cabins get a lot of passing traffic and noise and the ones beyond these elevator banks either in the bow or stern are a lot quieter. We had requested that the beds in one of the cabins were made up as singles but they had been left as a queen but a quick call to our cabin steward's voice mail was all that was needed to resolve this as by the time we returned to collect our life jackets for muster they had been separated. This set the standard for the excellent, efficient and unobtrusive service we received through out the cruise from the cabin steward.
We left our cabins to reacquaint ourselves with the ship and were quickly reminded of the quality of beauty of the artwork around the ship and quickly found ourselves remarking how well she had withstood the effects of having near 3000 people per week for the last 3 years walking through her halls and rooms. I know she is due to be dry docked for a refit soon but it is obvious that a lot of time has been put into the routine maintenance of the ship. The rest of the afternoon passed in a pleasant haze of lunch at the Windjammer cafe, which was the usual buffet food you expect from the cafe style restaurants on these ships -- okay, nothing to complain about but nothing to rave about either. After muster drill we made our way to the pool deck for the sail away and to grab our first cocktail and listen to the music. Boy what a mistake the band Tsunami (which has considering the events of a week later an unfortunate name) was absolutely awful. The keyboard player constantly played off key to the extent that my daughter who has only recently started piano lessons asked why he was playing out of tune. They had the effect of clearing the pool deck in a very short time as people moved to distant locations on the ship to watch us leave Miami. We quickly escaped to the Viking Crown Lounge with its eagle eye view to see Miami and Miami Beach slide past in the setting sun. The quality of the band set the tone for the music in general on the ship. I must say out of all our cruises the music was consistently the worst we had experienced.
Both my wife and myself attended the Adventure Ocean induction in studio B where the Adventure Ocean team members introduce themselves and highlight some of the things happening during the week. Having attended these in the past they have always been a fun way for the kids to see what is on offer in the program. This event happened but lacked the zip and pace of previous ones we had been to. Again we were left with the feeling that the script was being read and the motions gone through but nothing more was being put into the event. We missed the main welcome aboard program in the theatre but seeing the show on the ship's TV the comedian sounded very good and funny, which from experience maintains our RCI experience of having good comedians during a cruise. Again, his late night show was very funny. The highlight of the entertainment was Charo. She had a cabin near us and we had seen her with the crew singing and chatting to them. When she came onto stage she was a bundle of high energy and humour never afraid to use herself and her accent as the butt of the humour. It was when she started to play the guitar though that she changed from being another entertainer to someone who was very talented. I won't forget her version of Revel's Bolero played on the Spanish guitar.
The route was not too important to us and after a relaxing day at sea we arrived in Belize, a country I had last visited around 12 years ago. It was very pleasant walking a mile before breakfast watching us and a Carnival ship slowly wind our way through the narrow channels to our anchor point about 2 miles off shore from Belize city. Having travelled extensively in this region before we had decided that none of the excursions interested us much so we would make the day another sea day and enjoy the ship facilities.
That night we left for the short trip to Costa Maya and boy what a waste of time this port was. We were there with Star Princess and Carnival Miracle. The port area was so cramped you could hardly move, with long slow moving lines for everything. We quickly returned to the ship to relax in the Solarium and enjoy a few peaceful drinks and the hot tubs.
The 3rd stop was good old Cozumel. I really don't think I need to describe this fun busy port, which offers so many options of things to do. Again, being lazy we spent the day doing some shopping and just enjoying being on vacation.
Next day, Christmas Eve, we stopped a Grand Cayman and like everyone we took the opportunity for some last-minute shopping. Christmas Day was spent at sea on our way back to Miami -- a fun way to spend the day Father Christmas managed with great skill and advanced flying to land his sled on the pool deck and proceeded to Studio B where he had gifts for every child. All too quickly we were back in the theatre listening to the usual cruise directors jokes about the sea air shrinking clothes, etc.
Next morning the disembarkation was efficient and painless. We hung around the ship sitting in Studio B watching with increasing disbelief and sorrow at the news breaking from the Indian Ocean remembering it was only 3 months before we had stood on some of those glorious beaches watching the waves crash ashore.
Food aboard was good but not outstanding. We eat mainly in the Windjammer alternative evening dinning and found the choice limited but acceptable. As we both have jobs where we spend our days talking to people it is nice to be able to grab a table by ourselves and just talk to each other. My mother-in-law who was with us still enjoys the more traditional aspect of cruising and went to the main restaurant every evening. We joined her one evening and were totally appalled and surprised by the sleazy and creepy service. It was not fun watching a Turkish waiter and an Italian head waiter slim over her. The service was rushed so they had time to get everyone to stand up to do the Macarena. This just made sure we never set foot back in the restaurant again. I do feel this area of the ship and its service really does need to be sorted out and lets down the whole ship. We had always enjoyed eating in Johnny Rockets but the quality has gone downhill so much it was not worth the cover charge. There is a lot of difference between a well done burger and a dry greasy one placed on a dry stale bun.
A major disappointment was that in 3 and a bit years the production shows had not changed and were the same ones we had seen before. The ice show was also the same but I must say the quality of performance was much better. Clodagh our cruise director worked very hard but we felt she had always to be the centre of attention, and never gave credit to other members of her team and again we feel it was all too scripted and lacked a sense of spontaneity. Also being a holiday cruise the ship was full of families with children. There were signs on the whirlpool etc., indicating which hot tubs were for kids and families or adults only. RCI deck staff did nothing to enforce these signs so you had to question why have them in the first place.
Overall, we had a good cruise which gave us what we were looking for from this vacation. RCI management and staff all work very hard to produce a quality product that is efficient and seamlessly delivered, so why do I feel a little short-changed? Having gotten home and thought about it I feel it is just this attention to detail that has left the experience being rather bland and formulaic with very little room left for the personality of the staff and crew to come through. I feel the dining room is the one area that would benefit from more attention to the script and less to letting personalities shine though. Where were the warm Caribbean smiles from the crew, the hellos, etc.? Personally we thought the kid's program was unwelcoming and the counsellors uninspired. It's the only time they have not greeted my daughter by name regardless of how busy they have been and the only time at collection they have resorted to sitting on their chairs and using a megaphone to call her. But out daughter loved every minute of it so perhaps that says they had the program right for a 7 year old if not their parents.