explorer of the seas
We are very experienced cruisers. This is our 25th in 12 years and our 4th consecutive with RCCL, 7th with them overall. We were on the Allure in April and that set a sort of benchmark for my wife and I. We imagined that after being on the biggest and best, the other RCCL ships would appear creaky, unkept and antiquated. This has not proved to be true, but we have arrived at an interesting conclusion.
This ship sails out of Bayonne NJ. This was out first time there and it completely sucks. There really isn't a terminal. It's a giant tent. There is a security screening area that isn't handled by the cruise line, but it is so dirty, disgusting and disorganized. My wife was saying that we would never use that terminal again, even before we went thru security. Once thru there, the checkin process is extraordinarily swift. No lines, no waiting. We were on board in minutes. It's too bad that the attitude and gruffness of the security people is the first thing that you're exposed to upon arrival.
We have been in the Independence, Allure, Grandeur & Legend, so this was our first time on a ship that had the original Promenade. We were impressed with this ship. It's beautiful. Great "hard rock cafe" type artwork in the stairways and lobbies. Quite different than anything that we've seen before. The ship was clean and well kept. At 11 years old, this surprised me.
The Promenade is annoying. It's too much like a flea market. Continually, the stores have crazy sales. The sales aren't unusual, but the swap-meet appearance spoils the look of the Promenade.
The stores themselves were nice. We didn't buy any liquor this time, but I spent a hefty sum on a Lamborghini watch!
We didn't find the perfect bar that became our hangout. We usually do, but everywhere we went we felt comfortable.
The shows were ok. Nothing more. We left during one of them. They didn't hit a home run with the shows. That's disappointing. The Quest, however, was excellent! I was one of the team captains and my team won. This show is always great! The guest talent show was spoiled by technical difficulties so after waiting 25 minutes with nothing happening, we left.
Although we have been to the Caribbean over a dozen times, we had never been to one of the ports and it's been 12 years since we went to St John. We did a Segway tour of Old San Juan and loved it! We love Segways anyway, but combining that with a really awesome narrated tour of a beautiful old city makes for one of the best tours in the Carribean. The absolute best tour in the Caribbean is the Americas Cup Regatta in Sint Maarten. I was extremely disappointed that it was cancelled. Very disappointed.
Back on board, it's time to talk about the food. I always feel compelled to offer a preamble before discussing the food on a cruise ship. My wife and I are foodies. On land, we eat at the finest restaurants and probably eat 10 meals a week out of the house. But not all at 5 star places. We enjoy certain places for what they are. On cruise ships, it's always good to have fine food, but our personal restaurant experiences have made most cruise ship meals good, but not great. We expect this, so we aren't disappointed. Sometimes I read reviews here where someone is disappointed with the food but they went to the buffet everyday. What do you expect? We ate at the Windjammer a couple of times for lunch. It was fine. My expectations were in line. We ate in the Main Dining Room 5 nights and twice at Portofino's. The MDR was fine, we had great servers and did not have a bad meal. We like a table for two and were accommodated every night with the same servers. Portofino's is just ok. We thought the same on the Jewel of the Seas. We love fine Italian food, don't mind paying the upcharges in the speciality restaurants, and have had some incredible meals in specialty restaurants on cruise ships, but Portofino's is missing something. Giovanni's on the Allure, for comparison, is outstanding.
When cruise ships started offering cover-charge restaurants, it annoyed me. I saw it as a major change for the industry; if you wanted good food, you had to pay more, if you wanted slop or gourmet wanna-be food, you could get that for free. I look at it a bit differently, especially since we were on the Allure nearly a year ago. Most people don't dine like we do. Most cruisers are not foodies. For many, i bet the MDR is the nicest restaurant they've been to. We don't cruise so that we can eat enormous amounts of food. We cruise because we enjoy it as a break from the routine.
That being said, the Explorer of the Seas made me appreciate the Allure of the Seas more than ever. The dining choices, although they will cost you more, really make the experience second to none. On the Allure, we would try a different dining experience practically everyday. We did 2 weeks, back-to-back on her and still didn't eat everywhere. On the Explorer, we missed he choices. It didn't matter if we felt like Asian or Mexican or avant garde cuisine on any particular night. It was either the MDR or the buffet.
I have come to appreciate the dining choices on the mega ships, in spite of the cover charges that pile up.
This doesn't mean that the Explorer of the Seas is any less of a great cruise, because it really was great. But you are definitely forced to compare as you embark on more and more cruises. I'm sure that if I ever went on a Crystal or Seabourn cruise, I would be spoiled forever and never want to go on a mass market cruise ship again. The Explorer of the Seas had what we wanted; we drove to the terminal from Boston, no airplanes or hotel rooms involved. We had a good time, and we recommend her, but we will stop looking at such long cruises, meaning more than 7 days. We will opt in the future to do back to back cruises. We find that the age group on longer cruises is just too old of a crowd for us and we are in our fifties!