My husband and I are in our late thirties. I have cruised five times and this was our second. While I have always enjoyed cruising in the past, my husband is less of a fan, but he kindly indulges me.
We were really happy to be able to take advantage of the military discount on this cruise, making it cost around $900 a person for a balcony cabin on what was supposed to be a 10 night cruise - what a deal, especially combined with being able to drive to the port and avoid expensive airfare. We booked through a travel agent and during a WOW sale, so we had $350 in onboard credit too.
Our trip got off to a bad start when we received a call that the ship would be delayed a day and our cruise cut short. Apparently they had a medical emergency onboard and had to sail back towards Puerto Rico in order for a helicopter to airlift the poor passenger. While we certainly didn't begrudge anyone for the delay, it was a bit of a bummer.
As far as RCI letting you know about the delay, they call you, many, many, many times, I think between the two of us we had at least a dozen calls. The told us not to get to the port before 2 pm. Boarding would be from 2 to 6.
We drove down from upstate New York and arrive a few minutes before 4pm. You would think that we had arrived five minutes before departure, as the check-in staff were rushing us and kept asking why we were there so late. We checked in, took the shuttle bus and went to our room. Literally the second we walked in the door, the muster drill started and we were out the door again. I will say that the life preserver free muster is much nicer than the old way.
We went back to our stateroom, unpacked and met our stateroom attendant, who was very nice. We did the late seating in the main dining room, which was good on the first night because it gave us a chance to check out the ship. At last, we were on vacation.
I won't go through the play by play, but here were the highs and lows:
Condition of the room: the balcony had a fair amount of rust and signs of wear were present here and there. It was in pretty good shape for a ship that's going into dry dock though.
Condition of the ship as a whole: The common areas were kept very well and they were constantly cleaning. That was a good thing, since we had a small outbreak of Norovirus (about 20 people were affected).
Staff: The most noticeable difference from my prior cruises was the staff. I have a feeling that being assigned to the Explorer isn't considered a great gig. The staff and crew weren't as friendly and certainly didn't seem to enjoy their jobs as much as the staff and crew on other cruises.
Food: This was the most noticeable. I don't mind small portions, but I left dinner hungry most nights. The selection wasn't that great either. Several nights, I skipped dessert - that's unheard of for me. It was by far the worst dining experience I've had on any ship.
Waitstaff: Our waitstaff were very nice, but we saw them far, far less than we have our prior waiters. They clearly have more tables. We were located right next to the Captain's table, which usually seems to result in better service. I feel like the waiters did their best, but were overextended.
Activities: This is where the cruise was really lacking. We did the progressive trivia, and my husband liked the rock climbing wall. Maybe it was the fact that the cruise was longer than usual and there were many sea days all together, but we did ALOT of reading and playing rummy in the card room.
Ports: We missed Labadee because of the delay. I've never actually been to a private island, despite being on three cruises that were supposed to stop there. I'm beginning to wonder if they really exist. We did stop in San Juan and visited Fort Morro and walked around a bit. It was much nicer than the last time I visited. St. Martin was much dirtier than I remember and the vendors more pushy. Prior to this cruise, this was my favorite port. We visited with my college roommate who lives in St. Thomas, so this was, of course, my favorite port. The ports were nice, but have three back to back was pretty exhausting. I enjoy having a day between ports to relax and re-energize.
Overall: Something is off the Royal Caribbean in my opinion. This cruise didn't have the same feel as the others and I won't rush to book another. Maybe it's the financial cutbacks, but the relaxing, fun-loving feeling is gone. Our room steward told us that he's hoping to get a job with another line because he feels overworked and underpaid. I got that feeling from a lot of the crew and staff. Next time, we might try another line. In the end, I was actually glad our trip was shortened a day.