Explorer of the Seas Cruise Review by cruise pup: Boomerang cruise to Bermuda
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Boomerang cruise to Bermuda
First off I have to say that this was a wonderful cruise and I have no major complaints with the voyage. I will get to explanation for the title further along in the review.
I booked this cruise in the summer and managed to get an access interior cabin on the 10th deck very close to the aft elevators. Access cabins are larger to accommodate wheelchairs. They also have special set-up in the bathroom which is why I need this type of cabin.
Royal Caribbean does not help in any way to get to Cape Liberty other than to offer parking by the port which is I understand is pretty expensive. In order for me to get to the port from New York City, I first have to arrange transportation to Manhattan. From Manhattan I take the bus to Newark Airport (r/t $27.00) and then from Newark I can take the cruise line's transfer to the port (r/t $55.00). With the additional transportation needed between Queens and Manhattan, the total cost of getting to the ship and back home was $125.00 More (including tips). Cheaper than flying to a port but it's about twice the price of getting to the cruise ship terminal in Manhattan. Plus the facilities at Cape Liberty are pretty bad. The ship does not even dock by the terminal. You must take a shuttle bus back and forth. What makes it worse is that the buses used down have a very high step up and Royal Caribbean does not even think of using step units to assist passengers with getting into the buses. Cape Liberty must have been a sweetheart deal for Royal Caribbean to begin with and they nor the City of Bayonne seem to spend a dime on improving the location. Okay, enough with the griping.
I left my home at about 8:30am and arrived at Newark Airport at around 9:45 am. I found the RCCL rep at the terminal and waited about 45 minutes to get transportation. It turns out that no other passengers had arrived and I was put in a taxi for the cost of my bus transfer. The taxi driver said the fare would have been around $48. I was at the port by around 11:00 am. I am a Diamond member of RCCL past passenger program and had separate check-in and was given priority boarding. After a wedding party boarded I was called very quickly to board a bus to the ship. I had only packed one suit case and it was small enough to be a carry-on so first order was to drop it off in my cabin. RCCL doesn't make the cabins available until 1:30 pm but I know how to work it. I'm very quick about just dropping off the back and getting out quickly so the cabin stewards can go about setting up the cabins without anyone getting in the way. I did notice, however, that a ship's tour for travel agents was conducted on my deck at the time they don't want anyone in the area.
It was too early for lunch so instead of heading to the Windjammer I went to the Cafe Promenade on Deck 5 which serves light refreshments. I had a few mini sandwiches and some iced tea (lemon isn't available for the tea, though). I then proceeded to the solarium on deck 11 and lay down on one of the padded loungers where a dozed off and woke up around 3:30 pm. The Windjammer shuts down at around 3:45pm for the safety drill, so I barely made it for a quick bite (honey stung fried chicken and paella). I like the flavored water (a la Crystal Lite) served in the Windjammer and that's become my beverage of choice over iced tea. I went back to my cabin since it was way past the time it was available to have a good look. It was very spacious and clean. Everything seemed to be in working order. Drawers are small, though and the shelf space in the closet is sacrificed for the installation of a pull down clothes rail (brackets obstruct access to the built-in shelves). Some peculiar features were the soap dish and shampoo dispenser in the bathroom which were mounted in a place difficult to reach if you use the drop down seat in the shower (which I do use). Also, the cabinet door for the safe swings out towards the desk making it difficult to organize things. You have to go to the other end of the cabinet in order to use the safe. There was a nice sized love seat and coffee table in the cabin. After the safety drill I still felt drowsy so I stayed in my cabin during sail away. I had woken up very early that morning in anticipation of the cruise and I guess it was all catching up to me. I relaxed, unpacked, showered, relaxed some more and at about 8:00 pm I felt a very strong vibration which lasted a few minutes. It didn't seem like it would have been weather-related. But since it stopped I didn't think anything of it.
I made it to the dining room a little past 8:30 pm and was seated with a group of women traveling together. They weren't happy with the table assignment (no, not because of me) as it was situated at the entrance to the dining room. Apparently they arrived early and didn't like having all the people lined up to be seated looking at them. By the time I sat down there was no line and I knew it wouldn't happen again as all of the passengers would know how to find their tables. My waiter, Martinho and assistant waiter Savion introduced themselves and took our orders. Martinho would always make recommendations although they were the same as the chef's but he would mention his recommended alternatives. I have to say that the orders were taken quickly and served efficiently. One of the ladies got antsy about the wine she ordered but there are no wine stewards and the assistant waiter has to get the wine and serve it in addition to his other duties. At around 8:45 the captain came on the public address system to announce we needed to head back to Cape Liberty as a passenger required medical attention. He assured us that after we set out again we would only be about 1 hour behind schedule as the ship would sail at full speed to Bermuda. Of course this proved to make interesting dinner conversation. Some speculated that it had to be more than what the captain was telling us. The dinner was quite good. I ordered vidalia onion tart, tortilla soup, spinach salada, prime rib, aloo gobi (Indian potatoes and cauliflower),chocolate cherry cake and fat free peach and blueberry cobbler (hot out of the oven). After dinner I headed up to deck 14 to listen to music (excellent dance band)and watch us sail back into New York Harbor. I must say it's spectacular to sail into New York with the entire city lit up. There were even fireworks going. We arrived at Cape Liberty at around 11:00 pm and I retired for the evening before.
I started my 2nd day waking up early and making it to breakfast at the dining room around 8:00 am. Diamond member of the past passenger program are assigned a separate section of the main dining room where special coffees like cappuccino and espresso are served gratis. I must say the staff were fantastic and over the course of the cruise we would bond famously. The menu is the same except for a daily special. However, I didn't see eggs Benedict listed on the menu and yet I could swear I saw it being served. I wasn't in the mood for it so it didn't really matter to me. I find that breakfast can be the most difficult meal to get right but the guys in the galley on the ship are great at it and the waiters work hard at getting everything to you quickly and the way you like it.
After breakfast I was off to my favorite spot on the ship. The outdoor promenade on Deck 4, port (non-smoking) side. As we were heading south, port side faced the east and we had the morning side. The seas were behaving and I spend the morning reading and relaxing in my deck chair. Time seem to fly by and the next thing I know it's lunch time. On sea days the dining room is open for lunch from noon to 1:30 pm so I held off as long as possible and still manage to be seated. I scored a two top for myself (I get tired of everyone asking my life story so I actually prefer not to socialize at all my meals). the waiters did a good job (it's nice to see that the waiters who you do not get to grade on the passenger survey still make an effort). I continued my Deck 4 routine for the afternoon until I felt I needed a lie-down and then headed back to my cabin. My spinal stenosis (the reason I need the accessible cabin) had been flaring up. I didn't participate in any of the activities so I can't comment on them. I also didn't go to any shows on board (except for the ice show). However, I did manage to watch a bit of the welcome show from the first night on the in-cabin tv. All I can say is that comic had to be the worst ever. I've never been impressed with RCCL's entertainment outside the live music. They just don't get the same good acts and shows NCL, Carnival, and Princess manage. Even their other brand, Celebrity, seems to present better entertainment). But living in NYC I see all of the top entertainment I want, so I don't see this as being a major let down. I'm just as happy listening to a good band (latin, pop, jazz) and that RCCL seems to know how to book.
After my down time I showered and dressed for dinner. It was formal night and I thought for a short cruise there was no need to go all out. I wore a button down shirt and tie with a pair of chinos.
Before dinner I went up to the 19th Hole on Deck 14 for the nightly Diamond event where past guests are treated to wine and champagne. I had a few glasses of Chardonnay and then headed out with a glass to take with me to dinner.
All of the servers were friendly and did a great job of keeping everyone's glasses full. When I arrived at the dining room it turned out, just as I predicted, my table mates had their table changed. Rather than seat me alone, my waiter suggested I join the next table, which he served. It was a table for 6 with 4 people so they graciously invited me to join them. I felt a bit awkward but no on seemed to mind. As far as dressing for formal night, one of the men wore a suit and the other just wore a button down shirt, no tie. So I my instincts were right in not fussing over formal night. Dinner was another winner. Shrimp cocktail and escargot appetizers, lobster bisque soup, roast duck and shrimp ravioli, double strawberry cheese cake with butter almond ice cream. After dinner I headed over to Bolero's lounge on Deck 4 and listened to the latin music. It was a fun evening and the members of a wedding party formed a good ol' fashioned conga line around the lounge. After a while I headed up to the Viking Crown Lounge on Deck 14 to listen to the band there. Then it was off to sleep. Bermuda awaits.
Well, all thanks to all that relaxing and sleeping, I was up the next morning at around 5:00 am. And that's with turning our watches ahead one hour on the first night. I lay in bed as long as I could and headed to the dining room at 7:00 (it's a good thing the dining room opens 1 hour earlier on port days!). I inquired about the eggs Benedict and no, it wasn't on the menu and yes, I could still order it. I love it when they make you feel spoiled on a cruise! After breakfast I went to see the future cruise consultant who opened shop at 8:00. There was a transatlantic cruise I was considering and if I booked it on board the deposit would only be $100. instead of the standard $450. For the $100. I could hold a cabin and have until the end of January to make up my mind. Also, I wanted to make sure I could get an accessible cabin. As it turns out there was only 1 left so I made the necessary arrangements and turned the booking over to my travel agent.
I went down to my spot on the outdoor promenade just as we arrived on the eastern end of Bermuda and I could see the St. David's Lighthouse (one of my favorite sites on Bermuda). We then sailed by St. George and saw the channel where the small cruise ships used to enter to dock in St. George and the ferry still does. Then we turned as we passed Fort St. Catherine and I could see the rocks which protect Tobacco Beach. We then were further away from the coast line as we made our way west to King's Wharf. Even though we sailed from the west we needed to approach Bermuda from the east due to the coral reefs surrounding the island. You could even see spots right off the ship where the water was so shallow you could stand. It does take a good 90 minutes to sail this route and we arrived at King's Wharf at 9:30 am. So we actually were only 1/2 hour late which is pretty impressive. The weather in Bermuda was spectacular. The seas got a little rocky the prior afternoon when I was considering visiting the solarium and pool. But I thought twice about it and figured I'd get to the pool when we arrived in Bermuda and everyone wanted to get off the ship. And that's exactly what happened. I went to the solarium pool and there were only a handful of people there. I selected a padded lounger right by the pool and spent the morning in the pool, jacuzzi (very hot) and yup, napping. By the time I woke up I was sufficiently dry enough to go to lunch in the Windjammer after having such an early breakfast.
The Windjammer lunch was pretty much a lackluster affair. There was good coq au vin but the pork chops were tough as leather. The dessert selection was pretty poor. I settled for some Linzer torte cake. After lunch I needed to do something about my back so I headed to my cabin. I was originally booked on a snorkel excursion through Jessie James Cruises but cancelled a few days before since I didn't think it was a good idea. Good thing I did this. I've been to Bermuda several times so I really didn't feel like I was missing out. The arrival was good enough to see the island and I figured I still had the next day to go off the ship if I wanted.
I went to the Diamond event for wine and then headed to dinner. I ordered an appetizer portion of the penne Tarantina which was in a spicy hot seafood sauce. It was supposed to be an appetizer but it looked like a main course sized portion. It's a good thing it was so delicious or it would have gone to waste. LOL I ordered the parmesan crusted turkey as the entree but I didn't care for it. I also had an Indian cauliflower curry called Gobi Ki Sabzi which wasn't nearly as spicy hot as the pasta dish. Go figure. Dessert was the Choca-Chingo trilogy which included a chocolate cheese cake. The servings in the trilogy are just a couple of bites and it would be great if they ever made the cheese cake into a regular dessert unto itself. Had some pistachio ice cream with it. I was still smarting (I think I overdid the swimming that afternoon) so I skipped the music and just headed back to my cabin. Day 2 in Bermuda started off cloudy and went downhill by the afternoon. I went for breakfast in the main dining and then off to the promenade deck. As I said, it was very cloudy and didn't look like any chance of clearing. I was still considering whether or not I would go off the ship later on. I went to the Windjammer for an even more disappointing lunch. The only thing I cared for was the Szechuan soup in the Jade section and only after I doctored it by adding rice did I enjoy it. I tried some Chicken a la King but that's not something that would wow anyone. Desserts were even more dismal looking than the day before but I tried the mango strudel which would have been better if it had apple instead of mango. There was also a pear and almond cake that tasted like it was made from a basic yellow cake mixed with a couple of added ingredients. To make matters worse I noticed that the it got very dark outside which could only mean one thing, a storm. I headed out of the Windjammer and check out the pool area in the enclosed section, of course. The rain and wind were quite heavy. Looking out towards the Great Sound, Bermuda was nowhere to be seen. You could only see maybe 10-20 feet. The water in the sound was an ugly dark green and the waves were pretty big. Well, now whatever disappointment I may have felt for not going off the ship quickly vanished. I was thrilled to be in the dry environs of the ship. So, with no chance of sitting outside I went back to my cabin. And after that dismal lunch I decided to order some room service. I have to say that the order arrived quickly (earlier than promised) and the food was better than anything I had at the Windjammer. They even serve the honey-stung fried chicken but prepared better and served with sweet potato fries. The other outstanding offering is the spinach and artichoke dip which comes with nacho chips. It's even an appetizer one night in the dining room. I also ordered a cheese plate to take with me for the Diamond wine event. I preferred that to the jar of nuts and raisins they serve. The weather had cleared up and sailing out of Bermuda was smooth.
It was lobster night at dinner that evening. I started off with an appetizer size of the ziti with New England Bay Scallops. But someone didn't read the recipe right because here were mushrooms instead of scallops. But it was a very good dish. It was served with a pink sauce. The lobster is part of the fisherman's plate which also has some shrimp. A bunch of us decided to turn it into surf and turf and order the prime rib to go with it. Unfortunately, my prime rib, although cooked the way I like it, was entirely too salty so I just left it over and had more lobster. Dessert was the dessert sampler, another trilogy. As small as it was I only had two of three items along with some plain old vanilla ice cream which was actually very good.
The band was off that evening in the Viking Crown Lounge so I decided to turn in.
Final day we went back to the 8:00 am dining room breakfast time. Since this was the last day there were several things I wanted to do. But most importantly, I wanted as much time out on deck. The sea continued to behave but the sky was cloudy. Cruise director announced that the belly flop contest was cancelled because no one was by the pool. I waited til almost 1:30 pm to go to the dining room for lunch. Word must have gotten out how good the dining room lunch is because the line was very long. I was one of the very last ones to be seated and unfortunately this turned out to be the only table service meal I had where the wait staff was terrible. They couldn't seem to get the orders straight, served the entrees while people were still working on their soup(By the way, the soup was a sweet potato soup which was outstanding. Don't miss it!). Just not a pleasant experience but hey, it was just one meal, so no big whoop. I was invited to a special performance of the ice skating show at 3:00 pm. I got there early. They serve complimentary cocktails. I'm guessing this is in lieu of the past passenger party. I had seen the same ice show last January but it's been changed and the featured performers were different, I think. After the show it was back outside for my last licks of watching the ocean from a deck chair.
I got back to the cabin and ordered room service to take with me to the Diamond wine event again. This time I ordered that dip to bring and I was glad I did.
Since this is the night you give out tips, I wanted to make sure my friends at the Diamond event were included. They were terrific and deserved it. If you order anything other than the wines you pay and the 15% tip is added on. But since I only drank the wine I thought it was appropriate to leave a separate tip for the entire voyage.
The final dinner was pretty good. I ordered a double shrimp cocktail for an appetizer, pineapple and berry chilled soup (I poured it into a goblet and drank it like a smoothie), pumpkin soup (only soup I didn't enjoy. too much seasoning), New York strip steak (had to send first one back because it was covered in a sauce I didn't care for; second one was outstanding). Dessert was the best of the lot, key lime pie. I said my thank yous to the wait staff and distributed their tips and then it was off like a shot to the liquor shop on the Royal Promenade. I had 30 minutes before the final parade began and I still had $41. to spend from my on board credit. I picked up a bottle of Glenfiddich 15 year old Scotch for $39.99 which was perfect. Then I went to the casino and blew my entire bank roll, such as it was. That didn't take long. I made it up to the Viking Crown Lounge in time for the jazz band concert. I stayed for 2 songs and decided it was time to turn in. I hadn't packed yet and that was on my mind.
Unfortunately, I was just too tired to deal with the packing and turned in. Of course, all I did was dream about needing to pack. I was awake by 7:30 am. I had the packing done by 8:15 am, wheeled by bag out and managed to get an elevator down to the dining room for breakfast. There was no special Diamond breakfast and the line was quite long but I got in and had a pretty good breakfast considering the staff is under a lot of pressure to get everyone served and off the ship a.s.a.p. My assigned public room to wait for disembarkation was the 3rd level of the dining room. From where I could sit I could hear the luggage tag calls. At exactly 9:30 am my tag was called, 15 minutes ahead of schedule. I got up and wheeled my bag to the elevator bank, expecting the elevators to be packed. A door opened to an empty elevator which was operated by a crew member who took us down to the gangway level without stopping. I couldn't believe my eyes. I hopped on the shuttle bus to the terminal, went quickly through immigrations and customs and boarded my bus to Newark. We had to wait about an hour for the bus to fill up but I expected that. I was home by 12:30pm which was pretty good.
When I got home I looked up the weather in Bermuda. Looks like they got hit by Maria so we were lucky to get out when we did.
This was a short cruise but nevertheless enjoyable mainly due to a terrific staff.
I noticed that I didn't mention my cabin steward. He was terrific but we really didn't get to "bond." He never disturbed me, kept the cabin neat as a pin and could even anticipate my needs when it came to what room service items he could take away and what to leave.
All in all a great cruise. If only Royal Caribbean would do something about the port. Less
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