Dropped of our luggage, cleared security, got our key cards and had our photo taken all in 15 minutes. We had boarding number 39. Boarding was posted to start at noon. Just 15 minutes later, at 11:15 boarding started with number 36 being called. At 11:30 we were in the Windjammer getting lunch. Throughout the cruise they would be installing new carpets at night on the starboard side of the Windjammer. BTW, we never had trouble finding a seat or table though out the entire cruise. For a ship sailing full, it never felt crowded.
Lunch was good with pasta selections, fish, cold cuts, soups and an incredibly tender carved beef roast. Lemonade, a fruit drink and water were available if you chose not to buy a soda card. That was fine for us. The dessert tray was also nice with fresh cookies, various cakes, jello and more. The first thing we noticed was the service which was superb.
After lunch we walked around the ship. It was easy to find our way since the Explorer is a sister to the Voyager which we had been on twice. The voyager class is terrific.
At 1:30 we went to our cabins. My wife and I had a balcony towards the back of deck 7 on the starboard side while our sons, age 23 & 18, had an inside cabin on the rear of the port side just around the corner from our room. One of the reasons we use a TA is because of what he can find for us. When planning the cruise all I could find was an ocean view for 4 ( we booked late this year). Our TA found us these two cabins at a total cost of only $100 more than the ov for 4!! And to our complete surprise he gave us a cabin credit of $100 making tune price the same and in addition sent each of our rooms a plate of chocolate covered strawberries!
Our cabins were more than satisfactory. Good storage, small couch and comfortable bed .We met Tony from Indonesia, our cabin steward who turned out to be a real gem, the best steward we have had in 15 cruises. He got us robes, fresh ice as needed and basically did anything we requested with a smile. From the first time we met he remembered our names. What a gift he was. At the end of the cruise we gave him more than the standard gratuity with a hand written thank you note. He responded so humbly asking if we were sure we wanted to give him the extra tip and was so happy with the note. This was only his 3rd cruise and he was missing home and told us he had a number of complaining people. I have no idea why they were complaining, but I wish we could have taken him home. We plan to send a letter of praise to Royal Caribbean on his behalf.
The ship itself is in great shape for it's age except for the hallways which are in desperate need of new carpeting. Also for the 1st two days there was a slight sewerage smell in the port side hallways that did not effect the cabins. The TVs also need replacing. The interactive menu on ours did not function so we could not check our bill or book excursions from the cabin. When I mentioned this to someone at the pursers desk she said that this was a problem in many cabins. BTW, TV channel selection is quite poor. If you like FOX news you'll be fine. Cartoon network, Boomerang, the Travel Channel, a weak version of CNN round out the selection along with in house ads.
Once unpacked (our luggage arrived very quickly), we went to the Solarium pool for a quick swim before the muster drill which was simple, yet ineffective. Sail away was at 5. We chose the heliport as the best place to view the trip out. It was 73 degrees, breezy with blue skies. A collective cheer rose from t he decks as the Explorer cleared the Narrows and we were on our way. Made our last local cell phone calls before putting the phones in the safe for the duration of the trip. We were already unwinding and relaxing.
We had the early seating and were seated with a delightful young family from Britain. Had great time getting to know them throughout the cruise, enjoying 9 leisurely dinners. I love cruising.
After a delicious dinner of pasta with mushroom sauce and prime rib, it was time for the welcome aboard show. I don't put much stock in cruise directors, so my only comment On Jimmy Rhodes was that he did his job as well as could be expected. The dancers and singers did a number and comedian Adam Ace gave a fun performance, one of the better comedians I've heard on a ship.
Wandered the ship a little before the welcome aboard parade which is always fun before turning in for the night. Seas were calm. I would have preferred some rocking.. All in all a terrific start to what would be the best of the 15 cruises we've taken.
Day two is our first full day at sea. This was a 9 day cruise which balanced port time and sea days, for me just the right length. Seas were calm and temps were in the low 70s. The day is partly sunny.,
Breakfast on sea days for our family means the main dining room. Upon being seated and handed a menu waiters take juice and coffee orders and bring around a tray of rolls, donuts and Danish. You can purchase fresh squeezed OJ for $2.50, but why? Included juices include OJ, apple, and prune. I miss when they used to offer cranberry and pineapple as options. The breakfast menu is quite standard with everyone's favorites. My oldest son said the pancakes were dry, I loved the French toast, and my wife liked getting grits or cream of wheat as her breakfast appetizer. There is also a cereal bar with all kinds of toppings for your cereals along with various cold cuts, fruit and yogurts. Our table mates were a family celebrating a 90th birthday. This gentleman looked like he was in his 70s. He was a world war two naval vet who survived the sinking of his ship. He always wore his cap with the name of the ship on it and no one dare ask him to take it off. This was an appropriate response ignoring the no caps in the dining room rule. A delightful man who we often saw around the ship.
After breakfast we picked up our tickets for the ice skating show. They are free but you must pick them up. Do not miss this terrific show.
Next it was up to deck 12 for our morning one mile walk. The jogging/walking track has two lanes and wanders deck 12 above the pool deck. Five times around equals one mile. On sea days we do this as a family. After the walk my boys head off to the sports deck for some basketball while my wife and I head to deck 4 promenade to sit and read pour Kindles. During our 9 days on board we saw many Kindles, a few Nooks, and several iPads. I have a Kindle and an iPad (on which I am typing this review), but would never use the iPad as an ereader because of glare and battery life). Anyway, one of the things I love about the Voyager class ships is the deck four promenade which is wider than on most ships and has chairs, and a few ottomans end to end. Starboard side is for smokers. We love reading to the sound of the ocean coming off the ship as it glides along. Before lunch we check out the well equipped gym and spa which we will not use this cruise.
Lunch in the dining room is good but the selection is weak. The salad bar though is incredible. You point to what you want and a crew member assembles and chops the salad. Lot's of lettuce choices,fresh Mozzarella, shrimp, etc are all available. It is almost a meal in itself.
After lunch we play shuffle board with the boys and then a round of mini golf which after today becomes a daily after dinner ritual. We then head to the Solarium pool for a quick swim. Note that pool towels are checked out by the pool with your sea pass card and must be returned or there will be a $20 charge per towel. This is a great system as it doesn't involve your steward. Much smarter and simpler. This is also where you pick up stuff that was removed from your deck chair if it was unattended for longer than 30 minutes. First I've seen this enforced with consistency.
After a short nap we hear a knock on the door. It is a ship's carpenter who wanted to check out a crack in the mirror over the desk in our cabin. We saw no crack, but. he found a tiny and hardly visible chip in the mirrored door that covered some shelves. While at dinner, they took that small door off and the next day while we were in port, replaced it. It is amazing how they take care of the ship!
Earlier that day I lost my comb so I went to see if I could get one at the pursers desk. I got more than I asked for. The purser handed me a white, plastic pouch with the cruise line logo on it that included a comb, toothbrush, toothpaste, deodorant, razor and shaving cream!! Nice!
It was formal night so the captains reception was taking place on the Royal Promenade, a sort of indoor mall area of the ship. The captain gave a speech, there was a toast and you could get your picture taken with him. On this first formal night just about everyone dressed appropriately and looked so nice. To our surprise and delight, our TA was seated at the next table. Must be a good cruise if your TA is on board!
Dinner selection was weak so I ordered the sirloin steak which is always available. It was cooked perfectly to order and was delicious. Since our table had kids at it we always had two plates of French fries. We also had several dishes of cookies with our dessert. Note that if you order a drink with dinner you will find that you get it automatically each night. I once asked for milk and never had to ask again. Same for. My son who had lemonade.
Our waiter, Gopa, was also one of the best I've had. He was so accommodating. One night during dessert he noted that he couldn't bring the cookies because they were still in the oven. But just before we were ready to leave he brought us about two dozen just out of the oven. They were wonderful. Our table number was 566 but unfortunately you cannot get Gopa as your server. He was going home to his family in India for two and a half months after the cruise. One of the things I noticed and mentioned to him was that all of the food was brought up from the galley on wheeled carts. They no longer carry heavy trays piled high with dinners. Gopa told me that change would add ten years to his career and save his back.
After a quick game of mini golf we went to the production show Invitation to Dance. Very well done. Seating was never an issue in the theater or on the decks. For a full ship, we never had a problem finding a chair in the theater, on the pool deck, or in the Windjammer.
Following the show we went to the Cafe Promenade where you can always get a variety of cookies, sandwiches, Danish, coffee, tea, iced tea or iced water and pizza 24/7. While sitting there a 14 year old girl came and eyed my 18 year old son up and down. After a while she came over again totally checking him out. We have become used to this because our son has often been mistaken for Justin Bieber. Gave us a good laugh.
Took a brief walk around the ship and watched the stars from the heliport, something we don't see in the city, before turning in for the night. There is still lots available to do in all of the lounges be we turn in to get some rest. Clocks moved forward one hour the first night and we were tired.
Our 18 year old stays up heading up to the teen club, which at 18 he cannot participate in. Using his own initiative he organizes several teen events on his own getting more teens to go with him than to the teen program. He schedules some evening pool parties and board game events and makes about 30 friends. A nice kid who isn't into parties or rowdiness, he develops solid friendships without causing trouble or following the crowd. We are proud of his maturity.
Security, which is invisible during the day, is very visible at night in uniform. They do ask teens to follow the midnight or 1am curfew unless with an adult.
We find a towel animal on our bed: a dog.
On day 3 we arrived in Bermuda, our favorite port. Since we've been here 6 times before, we know our way around and had no excursions planned. On early port days we use the Windjammer for breakfast since it is faster than the main dining room. The selection is good, there is an omelet station and the toast, bagels, etc are made while you wait so they are hot, unlike the cold dry hard toast served in the MDR.
Security is tight in Bermuda. Any fruit you attempt to take off the ship will be confiscated. As you leave the ship, two people dressed like dolphins a rye ready for picture taking and they are quite aggressive. It was impossible to not have a picture taken. That said, picture taking on this cruise was not usually an in your face thing. And RCCL has done away with art auctions.
After waiting in a long line to purchase tickets for the bus system, we took the specially marked express bus to Horseshoe Bay for a morning at the beach. The weather was partly cloudy and humid with a temp in the low 80s. While at the beach I soon noticed that I had dropped my sandals along the way. None the less, the beach was beautiful. After about two hours we climbed the hill back to the bus stop where I found my sandals neatly bundled. Now that just wouldn't happen in NY or NJ! As we boarded the bus a rain shower developed and fortunately for us the rain only continued until we got back to the ship. That was the only rain we had the 9 days of the cruise.
In Bermuda always remember to greet the bus driver and never get on board until invited to do so.
Lunch in the Windjammer was OK, but the hamburgers in the grill were not good. You picked them from warming trays. On Carnival they are fresh off the grill.
After a quick lunch it was off to tour the Dockyard for the afternoon and do some shopping before returning to the ship for an afternoon swim. Again security was tight and I was randomly selected for a more thorough examination. Nothing major, but everything through the x-ray machine and documentation all written down for their records. Took all of 3 minutes. Then it was off to deck four to cheer on those arriving last minute for departure. The captain was a stickler for time. You had to be on board a half hour before departure and the ship never waited until departure time, leaving as soon as the last person was on board. So if the itinerary listed a 6 pm departure you were usually pulling away from the pier at 5:30.
Dinner was plentiful but unmemorable. The show that evening was ventriloquist Brad Cummings. All I can say. is DO NOT MISS this show. He was incredibly funny.
We were exhausted and decided to turn in after the show. I think the time change and the full day on shore wore us out.
Day 4 was a day at sea. so we slept in a little later and had a leisurely breakfast in the MDR followed by our daily mile walk on deck 12. It would be an 81 degree day with mostly sun and some humidity. At 10 am we had our Cruise Critic Meet and Mingle. About 30 of the 120 who signed up, showed up. A small gift of a pen and pad that held your name tag around your neck was given followed by everyone introducing themselves. I was surprised how many had connections to Jersey City. Names were then put. In a raffle. My 23 year old son won a bottle of wine and was carded since he looks younger. I won $50 of Internet time which would be just over an hour of actual use. The Internet area on EOS is barely usable. It took me three computers to find one that actually had a keyboard where all the keys worked. The computers were the same ones on the Voyager of the Seas back in 2004! It was frustrating logging in and then finding that the @ key didn't work, or the letter a was not functional, which was not good with my name. I basically used the time for a couple of quick emails and to clean out my inbox so I'd have less to do when I got home.
Did some reading on my balcony before lunch in the MDR. In the afternoon we attended the ice skating show which was marvelous. There were a couple of falls but they did not distract from the show. At one point there was a malfunction where the music abruptly stopped so the audience just kept singing the song which was great. The problem was fixed quickly and the show continued.
Another game of shuffleboard before heading to the MDR for dinner. Which tonight was excellent both in choice and quality. The lamb shank was wonderful as was the chicken marsala, and the garlic tiger shrimp. Could not decide so I had all three!!
The production show "Wild, Cool, and Swinging" was a typical cruise show: entertaining, well produced, but nothing special. After the show we wandered the ship for a while before turning our clocks back an hour and heading to bed.
Day 5 was St Maarten. The day would be sunny and breezy in the low 80s but with an intense sun. Arrival in St Maarten would be at noon so we followed our normal at sea morning routine. After breakfast in the MDR and pour daily walk we headed to deck 4 to read and watch the arrival to St Maarten. The gulls down here had a more aerodynamic shape than the NJ gulls. Had an early lunch in the Windjammer before getting off the ship for a tour of the island on a ship's excursion. This was our first time in St. Maarten so we thought a tour would work well and the price was quite reasonable. Our guide, Mr. Cool, was informative and fully as we got to see both the Dutch and French sides of the island. We stopped in Maigot on the French side for some shopping. One of the stores offered free 2 minute calls to the US or Canada, no purchase necessary. This store also had a great exchange rate where the dollar was equal to the Euro. Some stores were closed since the French take a two hour lunch each day. While touring the island it seemed to us that there were rich and poor, but no middle income.
Although departure time was 9 pm we returned to the ship after the tour and stayed on board. Dinner had some good choices. My selection was fried chicken which was moist and tender. Tasted like KFC but with a little less salt. Really good. The evening show was the comedy,juggling and magic of Steve Carte. Mostly juggling and lots of comedy. Somewhat silly but very enjoyable.
Of course there are many other things going on board at all hours from bingo, to the love and marriage show, to the belly flop competition and music in all the clubs and much more. You can do as much or as little as you want. People I know who play bingo were not happy that you could only play if you bought a bingo package that cost $37.
The ship departed at about 8:40pm for a slow trip to nearby St. Thomas.
We arrived in St Thomas at 8am just ahead of the Carnival Liberty. Weather was 84 and sunny with a slight breeze. Since we had only been to the island once and had not seen much because we did snorkeling, we decide to take a tour this time. Our tour included a two our stop at Megan's Bay Beach. This was the perfect tour. A delightful driver, great views, a stop at the Botanical gardens and two hours at an absolutely gorgeous beach. This day was the highlight of the cruise. At the beach we moved far left of the crowds where there was more solitude. The water was wonderful but there were jellyfish warnings. We saw none, but some said there were many at the other end of the beach. This tour was relatively inexpensive (as were all the tours we took). It was called "the lovely island and beach tour" and indeed it was as advertised.
One thing I didn't understand in St Thomas is why the steering wheels on the cars are on the same side as in the mainland US but they drive on the opposite side of the road. You would expect the steering wheel to be on the right hand side.
Upon returning to the ship, we had a very late and lite lunch.
Dinner was excellent starting with the small shrimps salad followed by roast beef cooked perfectly and delicious roasted chicken.
After leaving St Thomas the ship just sits off shore for about 5 hours before heading very slowly to nearby Puerto Rico. After watching the stars from the heliport for a while we turned in. Docking at San Juan would take place at 7 am.
We were up early for docking in San Juan. This would be a short stop lasting from 7am to 1 pm. The Carnival Liberty was also in port with us again. Once again this would be our first time there so we opted for a tour of the new and historic areas. This tour made several stops and covered most of the city with a 45 minute stop at the fort. Again it was a beautiful day and although temps were in the mid 80s the heat of the sun was intense. Modern San Juan reminded us of Miami and did not impress but we loved the architecture of the historic district.
Departure was interesting because small boats really don't worry about clearing a cruise ship backing out so two coast guard vessels with a machine gun on the front had to redirect them.
Lunch was an on deck BBQ. The ribs were wonderful, the burgers not so much.
The afternoon was spent reading and dozing on deck 4 as we looked forward to two additional sea days heading back to NJ. We loved having 2 days over 1 because we didn't have to think about the cruise ending so soon after the last port.
Dinner selection was the worst of the cruise. Selection was poor so I opted for the turkey scallopini. Very disappointing; think college cafeteria food.
The evening was better with a 3 man group called The Horizons doing and incredible Motown show. I've sen Motown production shows non ships and they are pretty much the same, but having an actual Motown group made this show special. It could have been longer though.
While we turned in at 11pm our 18 year old enjoyed the Quest, a large, and boisterous game played in Studio B on deck 3.
Day 8 was a sea day with temps in the upper 70s and partly sunny. The seas were considered moderate, but still seemed very smooth to us. Our Cruise Critic Meet and Mingle group was scheduled for a group picture on the heliport but only two families, 7 of us showed up. Still the picture was taken and later arrived at our cabins with a handwritten note thanking us for cruising and participating.
My wife and 23 year old son climbed the rock wall while I served as photographer. My son was gently mocked for wearing an NCL t-shirt.
In the afternoon over 400 people led by the captain and cruise director did the "Walk for Wishes", a fund raiser for the Make a Wish Foundation. The money is raised from each participant buying a $10 t-shirt made especially for the walk. The walk is one mile on the jogging track around deck 12. It is a fun event for a good cause. Cold water is provided at the end of the walk.
It was the second formal night and everyone looked wonderful! So surprised again to see everyone dressing up. Dinner was incredible with prime rib cooked perfectly or lobster tails and garlic shrimp. Order both and you had surf and turf. And there were automatic seconds on the lobster tails. Yum.
The production show was called "Fast Forward" and was your typical cruise production show: mildly entertaining.
Day 9 was our last day at sea followed our normal sea day routine with a few minor changes. We used our free spin on the slots, our only time in the casino since we don't gamble. We didn't win. Also went to Johnny Rockets for lunch since we wanted a good burger and shake. Food was as expected and did not disappoint. You pay 4.95 per person head charge and the price of drinks. All the food is included. We had coupons for two for one milk shakes. As soon as you sit down they bring you a plate of fresh fries and onion rings. You then order whatever and as much as you want. I had the rocket double. Sometime during your meal the waiters will dance to a 1950s song. It is all fun and the food is excellent. You can even get hot apple pie or an Oreo fudge sundae.
The rest of the day was spent reading on deck 4. Dinner was adequate but not memorable. Just prior to dinner there was a farewell parade on the Royal Promenade.
This night was also gratuities night. On RCCL you have a choice: determine your own tips and use the envelopes provided or pay gratuities on your account and have vouchers for the envelopes. We do the vouchers but this time put extra cash in urge envelopes for our steward and waiter because they were so good. Of course there are the cheapskates who decide to eat in the Windjammer that night and skip the MDR because they don't want to give tips to these hard working people who get tiny salaries and rely on tips. The empty tables are obvious and sad.
The farewell show included an advertisement for the DVD of the cruise, the CD's top ten stupid questions, which are the same old lines used on every ship, and a top notch comedian, Tony Daro, who was absolutely hilarious. One of the best comedians I've heard on a cruise ship.
Then it was off to pack. Since we chose express departure we did not have to have our luggage out in the hallway before 11 pm.
Debarkation was simple. We were up early to see a beautiful sunrise which was enhanced by the particles of pollution in the air. Watched the harbor pilot board before going to our last breakfast in the MDR. Went back to our room to watch docking and timed the first rope being tied down. The captain promised several times the day before that the first rope would be tied at 8:01 am and indeed it happened at exactly 8:01.
We then went to our assigned lounge to wait for our departure letter to be called. With letter D we were the 4th group off the ship at 8:50. Had to wait a little for the shuttle to the terminal. Customs seemed efficient until we were assigned to a line where the Customs agent was chatty which slowed things down a little. Although polite and friendly, this agent wanted to talk about cruises in general and the various cruise lines, asking for opinions since hie was planning a cruise with his girlfriend. Finally through customs we were picked up by my sister and home by 10 am after what was in reality the best cruise we've been on.
So much went right: the weather, the seas, the ports, the service and so much more. I'd do the Explorer again in a heartbeat.
See you around the ship.