We sailed on the Explorer of the Seas from December 1 to December 10. We had a fabulous time. I enjoyed reading all the reviews prior to our cruise and of course wanted to add my own. We've sailed with Carnival and NCL -â€" this was our first with Royal Caribbean. Overall it was our favourite cruise, although there are a few things we preferred on the other lines (but you can never have everything)! This was our first 10 day cruise and the extra days were very nice.
We are from Ontario and had sailed out of New York once before. If we had a choice, for us personally, the New York port is much more convenient and easier for us to get to, but we wanted to go on this cruise so Bayonne it was! Prior to the cruise, we spent one night at the Robert Treat Best Western in New Jersey. I had read really bad things about the Best Western near the airport but not too much about the Robert Treat. We were happy with the hotel and would stay there again if we sail out of Bayonne. The hotel was clean and the staff were nice. They said they had free wifi but it didn't work in my room and I went down to the lobby where it did work. They had free coffee/tea 24 hours and a free breakfast that was decent.
The morning of December 1 we arrived at the port at approximately 11:30 a.m. It was busy, but we quickly moved into the terminal. We were given a number (which they used to go in order to let people on the ship). There were only a few people in line ahead of us and check in was quick and easy. There was some water and cookies (I think they were cookies) available while waiting, but we didn't have any and waited for our number to be called. It didn't take too long for them to start calling numbers.
We headed up to the Windjammer for our first buffet lunch. It was crazy busy. It was too bad there wasn't a restaurant open for lunch on embarkation day as we took advantage of that on our last cruise. We managed to find a seat. Had a quick lunch and took off to explore the ship. We watched them loading up a lot of the supplies for the cruise and there was also a German Shepherd dog sniffing what was being loaded on the ship. For a December day it was cool but not at all what you would expect for December.
The rooms were available at 1:30 p.m. We had gotten a good price on a guarantee balcony and weren't surprised to be placed on the 6th level (a D1). We had a connecting room and could hear almost everything our neighbour said. I don't know if this is normal because I could hear her very clearly, but never heard the person she was speaking to. It could be just that she spoke loudly and it wouldn't normally be an issue (since I don't thing she was talking to herself, but I never heard the other person). The room was fine and we did enjoy the balcony. As most are aware, the balconies on the 6th level are not as nice as the others with more steel and less viewing area. This was not as great as our previous balconies, but for the price we got, I'd do the same thing again. Our luggage came extremely quickly. The quickest we've ever experienced as it was there by about 2:30. We did miss the robes that were in our cabins on both of our previous cruises, but managed without them!
In the past I've always loved sitting on the balcony when we were in port and often have a short afternoon nap while on the balcony. Unfortunately I couldn't do that as often on this cruise. They work very hard to maintain the ship, but the days that we were in port they were doing work on the balconies. Some type of painting with strong fumes as well as loud banging. I thought the first port day when they'd gone by our balcony they would be finished, but unfortunately the same thing was going on the next port day. The metal on metal banging made sitting on the balcony unpleasant as well as the sometimes strong fumes. Also on the last sea day I was going to have one sleep in day but it wasn't to be as there was loud metal on metal banging around 8:30 a.m. This had also happened earlier in the cruise, but I hadn't been trying to sleep in that day! That was a drawback we haven't experienced before, but they do work hard to maintain the ship. It doesn't show its age at all (in our opinion). I don't know if the maintenance was related to its age or if this is common on all their ships.
I had also read some posts where people complained about a sewage smell. I did smell it the very first day during sail away above the main pool deck, but smelled nothing the rest of the cruise.
Our cabin attendant, Roberto, was wonderful. The best we have had yet. He always remembered our names, was amazingly quick and always managed to sneak in and fix up our room when we stepped out, even if just for a short time. He'd open our door for us if he saw us coming down the hall. We tipped him extra at the end as it was well deserved. All the cabin attendants in our end of the ship were always very friendly. Muster drill was quick and it was amazing to be outside in December and not be freezing without a jacket.
We picked My Time dining and I had made reservations in advance for 6 p.m. each night. We cancelled one night to go to Portofino and I changed our reservation to a later time on another night to accommodate our ice show tickets, but we kept the 6 p.m. reservation for the rest of the days. We enjoyed My Time and also enjoyed the food. There were 2 sections and we sat in both of them. First and last we had waiter Anthony and assistant Maria who were very friendly and attentive. We also sat on the other side where there was waiter Valerian (I hope I got his name right) and assistant Adem. Valerian was wonderful one night when my husband had a problem with feeling seasick (usually happens once a cruise for him). He had to leave dinner and Valerian packaged up his dinner for me to go and also got 4 dinner rolls and told me to have him eat them dry without drinking much water. He also looked for green apples, but there were only red ones around. My husband felt better a couple hours later after eating the dinner rolls and after the Gravol kicked in. We attended both formal nights but changed right after. We enjoy dinner in the dining room and dressed appropriately but really don't enjoy dressing up on vacation at all. We've dressed up about 6 times now in the past 3 years -â€" once for our wedding, once for someone else's wedding, twice on Carnival and twice on RCCL. We loved that NCL had dress up or not nights. Although the attire was 'suggested' we felt we should dress appropriately to dine in the dining room so did. We also went to Portofino one night and enjoyed that as well.
We attended all the shows and enjoyed each of them. I know some people enjoy a leisurely dinner, but we were happy that we were able to get in and out usually in under an hour (guaranteed when we were on Valerian and Adem's side). We would go to the early show and if it was great (which it was a couple times) we also attended the later show (which was usually much fuller). The entertainment staff switched halfway through the cruise as I believe the previous group was going on their 'off' time and both sets of entertainment staff were good. I don't usually love comedians, but for me one of the very best shows I have ever seen was on Day 4 -â€" a duo -â€" John Joseph and Johnny B. John Joseph was absolutely hilarious and we enjoyed both of the shows that night.
There were 2 different ice shows and they were both fantastic. One of the highlights of the cruise. The skaters were great as was the guest star Yulia who did some amazing acrobats above the ice. Tickets were required for these shows so check the Compass if you are interested in attending as they will tell you the times they are handing out free tickets. I was down at the guest services desk the day of one of the shows and they still had tickets available for one of the times that night, so if you don't get tickets when they are originally handed out, you may be able to later. If there is space, they will let in people without the tickets.
We loved the cruise director, Jimmy Rhodes. I had read some negative comments about him prior to our cruise, but we thought he was great. We enjoyed his How U Cruisin' morning show (with Activities Director Marvin) each morning. We found him to be very interactive and entertaining and we thought he was the best cruise director we have sailed with.
I won't go into to much detail on the ports. For us, we enjoy the cruise and the sea days. The ports are great but for us the cruise and the sailing is what we mainly cruise for. At St. Maarten, we got the $6 pass to travel back and forth on the water taxi all day. We only actually needed to pay for one way ($4) as we ended up walking back, but will know that for next time. We walked along the beach there and did a bit of shopping. We had been to St. Thomas before so walked around and didn't do much there. We really enjoyed Old San Juan. We walked around and found a beach (although rough so swimming was not allowed -â€" but it was nice). We took lots of pictures of the walls and other areas and saw a large iguana during our walking. Labadee was also very nice. I'm not a sun person at all as I burn very easily. My husband loves the sun. That is one of the reasons why cruises work so well for us and he can have his sun time and I can do other things and we meet up for meals and activities and have the perfect combination of together time while still getting what we both want out of a vacation. Labadee was his one beach day and we managed to find a spot where he was in the sun while I was in the shade.
There was one little issue that I had to visit guest services about. I spoke to Brittany who was fantastic and very helpful. I did not check our account until mid-way through the cruise. We got an onboard credit from our travel agent, but there was $25 less posted to our account than what should have been there. I had our receipt from our travel agent and went down to the guest services desk. Brittany took a copy and said she would send it to their corporate office and let me know when they replied. She left us a voice mail that night and said that Royal Caribbean corporate office got back to her and said they reviewed our reservation and we got the onboard credit we were supposed to get and we should be referred to our travel agent if we had any other questions. Brittany offered to place a complimentary call to our agent. We were busy the next day, but I went down on Thursday and another customer service representative placed the complimentary call for me.
It took about 20 minutes, but our agent was fantastic and got to the bottom of the problem by calling Royal Caribbean and eventually their Resolutions department. It was an error on Royal Caribbean's part. They had applied the onboard credit to another cruiser's reservation (that was 1 number off from ours in the middle part of the number). This also explained why we didn't get something else left in our room that was supposed to be there -â€" it had gone to the other cruiser's reservation in what seemed to be a data entry error. The credit had been applied to a reservation that was not even made through our agent. Royal Caribbean told our agent it was too late in the cruise to apply the credit for us so they were refunding our agent the missing $25 and our agent is mailing us a cheque. I'm glad it was resolved. I'm sure the other cruisers who got our credit in error were happy!
I tried to attend as many events on the ship as possible. We enjoyed the Welcome Parade, 70s Street Party, Sexiest Man competition, the Belly Flop competition, Just Married game show, Karaoke in the evenings, the ice carving demonstration, the deck party one evening with a late night buffet as well as other events I am probably forgetting right now!
We enjoyed the Royal Promenade and Cafe Promenade, although it was a bit small for being the location open 24 hours. It was hard to get in there after shows let out. They had incredibly hot water so that worked well for coffee, tea or hot chocolate.
Unfortunately, I found out from talking to another cruiser who had to visit the medical facilities that there had been three heart attacks on the cruise. I don't know how serious they were, but I hope everyone was okay. One morning I know they were asking for blood donations so I don't know if that was related or something different. It is terrible to have something like that happen on vacation.
Sadly, all good things must come to an end and debarkation day did arrive. We did the express option as we had to get off early enough to make our return travel plans. We found it fairly organized in the waiting area. There was a bit of a back up once we got of the elevator on level 1, but it moved quickly and soon enough the bus came to pick us up and take us back to the terminal.
We can't say enough positive things about the crew - the crew on the ship was wonderful and hardworking and always very friendly.
We really enjoyed the cruise and are already looking forward to our next cruise. It was a wonderful 10 day vacation!