Cruising is our favorite form of vacation as a family. We started taking our kids on cruises when they were 11 and 15. Now at 18 and 22 they still want to go along with Mom and Dad! We chose Explorer of the Seas to Bermuda this year as we were traveling with two other families and their kids, friends of ours and it was convenient for us all to drive to Cape Liberty from Philadelphia and avoid flying.
The drive to Bayonne NJ was easy but the port was not well marked on the streets. However we made it just fine, parking was easy also but expensive ($95 for five days). We waited over an hour in a long line to get on the ship. It was a LOT of standing and barely moving; I do not know how elderly passengers survived the long, hot wait. The check-in agent was not very friendly.
Finally on the ship we waited again for a half hour to get onto a very small and crowded elevator. Ships the size of Explorer should have larger and more plentiful elevators! I have not encountered this problem on all the other RCL ships we have happily sailed on.
Cabins were ready which was great. We got adjoining cabins with Promenade views. We found the cabins to be claustrophobically small, again not what we had found on our other RCL cruises. I was immediately regretful I had not booked oceanview cabins. Views of the promenade were dark and dismal, and remained so no matter what activity was going on there. Since we were on deck 8 however we were not bothered by noise from the promenade area where many activities take place. Our luggage arrived to our room shortly after we did so we could unpack before we even set sail! That was nice.
The dining room was beautiful and service there was excellent! Unfortunately the food was not up to usual RCL standards. Even the waiter advised us not to order certain desserts because he said they were poor. We appreciated the advice but what does this say about the quality of the food onboard if even the waiters feel it is necessary to advise against certain dishes? We ate in the Portofino restaurant for extra cost one night. The steak and lamb chops were delicious but the pasta dishes were forgettable. Not worth the extra cost.
The pool area was lovely and the Solarium was a nice sanctuary away from all the noise and hubbub on the pool deck if you wanted some peace and quiet. The new rules about signing in and out beach towels are a great inconvenience. Next cruise I will bring my own beach towels. Wasted too much time signing in and out the worn out faded towels provided.
The 22 year olds greatly enjoyed all the deck activities. Mini-golf, belly-flop contest, rock-climbing wall, etc. Also those traveling with us in this age group enjoyed karaoke and all of the bar and lounge activities until the wee hours of the morning. My hubby and I relaxed most nights in the Aquarium Bar which was intimate and lovely with a large wall aquarium full of fish. Our 18 year old daughter met us there often and one of the bar waiters made her a straw sculpture each night in her alcohol-free cocktail! It was adorable!
Service on the ship was excellent as we have always found it to be on all RCL cruises. RCL seems to have the happiest and most helpful employees; from the deck hands to the photographers and beyond, everyone goes out of their way to make sure you are happy. Our room steward was very conversational as well and did a great job keeping our cabins clean and well-stocked with towels. We had to ask for our ice bucket to be full and found out that is no longer done routinely, but the steward was happy to accommodate our request.
The weather was fantastic; sunny and breezy for the entire cruise. We docked at Kings Wharf where there are shops and other activities now that you can walk to, which include jet-skiing and a little beach for snorkeling. Some of the shops are branch stores from the ones in town so you know the quality of the products is highly recommended.
We took two shore excursions with our "kids", the Horseshoe Bay Beach Excursion and the Aquarium and Cave tour. The beach tour involved transportation to and from the Horseshoe Bay beach and three + hours at the beach. We had been to this beach in the past and feel it is the most beautiful one in the world. It has not changed one bit and is like Utopia in our opinion. Everyone enjoyed the soft pink sand and the refreshing blue water. The tour guide who drove us showed us many landmarks and told us lots of history about the island. He was wonderful.
The next day we went to the Aquarium and Crystal Cave. Again a small bus drove us to both destinations and the tour guide was friendly and personable. The aquarium/zoo was undergoing renovations so some of the displays were not available but the changes will make it even more interesting in the future. It is a small but lovely zoo experience. The Crystal cave should not be missed! 85 steps down into an awesome nature experience. Not for the out-of-shape but an unforgettable experience with a guide who made it like a terrific adventure!
We did not attend the shows on board because we were so busy! but we heard that they were excellent. The kids did try out the in-house ice skating on board and loved it. I heard from other passengers that the ice show on board was particularly spectacular. My daughter and I went to a jewelry making class which was great fun and at a small cost we each made a pair of earrings, necklace and bracelet to match!
The shops onboard were not too memorable and we missed having a return-passenger party with the captain. Meeting the captain was in the promenade area instead of a dance lounge and that took away from the fun we thought. The captain was very humorous and friendly and informative each day when he made announcements.
In all it was a great trip but I would not book a promenade cabin again since I missed the view. I did peek in the balcony cabins and they looked wonderful; will book one or two of them if we go on this itinerary again. We had been to Bermuda in the past and it remains our favorite cruise destination. I hope RCL improves the quality of the food and brings back the midnight buffets (there were none on this cruise!). Oh I forgot to mention the Windjammer had terrific food there and was large enough to accommodate everyone; we never once had to wait for a table. The kids enjoyed eating there for almost every meal.
The trip went too fast. Disembarkation was extremely orderly and easy. We got our luggage as soon as we disembarked in a very well organized area. We were on the road to home in short order. I hope they can make embarkation as easy as disembarkation in the future. The kids had a fantastic time and it was a great trip to reconnect with my normally work-obsessed husband!