*Please excuse the lenghty review, but it is very informative and we had a very enjoyable time on the Explorer of the Seas*
This was my seventh cruise, second on the Explorer of the Seas out of Cape Liberty and third Royal Caribbean cruise (Majesty of the Seas out of Miami in December 2004.) I have also been on Holland America's MS Noordam twice in December 2006 and February 2008, the MSC Orchestra in February 2009 and the Carnival Pride in July 2011. My family enjoys cruising, especially over the February President's Week school break. Next year, we will be going on the 9-night Norwegian Gem to the Caribbean out of Manhattan because the Explorer of the Seas only leaves for a seven night cruise to Florida and the Bahamas, and we like the longer cruises.
Embarkation was a breeze at Cape Liberty as we remembered that from last year. We went from the taxi to the shuttle going to the ship within 20 minutes. The shuttle was unnecessary and waiting for it took some time. When getting on to the ship, all that is open are the Windjammer/Island Grill Buffet area and pool deck, bars, and other public spaces. Due to an International law, the stores and Casino were not open until we left port at 5 P.M. Standing on the helipad watching us sail under the Verrazano Bridge was very interesting to see especially with only 17 feet of clearance.
Service on the Explorer of the Seas was excellent. It definitely lives up to its unofficial nickname of 'The Friendly Ship of the Fleet.' Our waiter, Sebastian was very friendly and he was very social with us, (we were a group of 10), and on lobster night, he brought one of the ten of us 5 lobster tails, which came with 6 pieces of shrimp each. He also told us of what goes on behind the scenes of a-day-in-the-life-of-a-Royal-Caribbean-cruise-waiter. He told us about his life as a waiter, how he met and married his wife on the ship, and we was so nice to us. The assistant waiter, Desran was very nice, but he didn't always remember our orders and he was kind of out of it.Our cabin steward, Wawan was also nice but he wasn't the best cabin steward. In fact, he forgot to make our beds one night and after returning to our cabin at 10:30 p.m., it took until 12:45 a.m. before the third Pullman bed was down for the three of us to all go asleep. Other than that incident, Wawan was very nice and wanted to learn our names by the first night.
We booked cabin 8349, 3 cabins away from our cabin last year, 8355. We had an interior stateroom with 2 twin beds and 2 more Pullman beds. The bathroom was very small and the shower was comparable to a narrow tube and it was hard to shower with such a small shower. The toilet stopped working 3 times due a plumbing malfunction, said the plumber. We were hardly in the stateroom, as we were always by the pool, Promenade, etc.
Adventure Ocean Kids Program/OPTIX Teen Program
I traveled with 3 families (including mine) and we had 5 kids. Two twelve year olds, two seven year olds, and a three year old. The two seven year olds did not use the Adventure Ocean facilities, but the three year old loved it and wanted to go morning, afternoon, and night.
On the other hand, the two twelve year olds loved OPTIX, the 12-17 teen program. From the teen discos to scavenger hunts, Simon Flaxman and Jessica Dantas were an excellent teen staff/
The Headliner Showtime got better each night as the cruise continued. The first night was an amateur comedy show. The singers and dancers of the ship were featured in three shows on the ship. There was an Elton John impersonator, named Jonathon Kane who was identical to Elton John, from voice to looks to the gap in his teeth. There was another night where a old lady, named Judy Kolboa who thought she could sing and be funny at the same time, but she couldn't do either. The worst show of all was the Gauchos of Argentina, some dance thing that we all left early from.
On the other hand, there was two ice shows that were incredible. Blades: The Ice Challenge was a pre-determined winner "game" where the entire audience was split up into two "teams", the Portobellos on the port side of the ship and the Starboarders on the starboard side of the ship. The Portobellos were the pre-determined winners and the entire ice cast was put onto either team. The second ice show, Spirits of the Seasons: The Ice Spectacular was also very good. It was a journey through all four seasons and I personally liked the summer part best.
None of the ten of us were ever bored on the ship. From ice skating to rock climbing to mini golfing to swimming to inline skating (and much more,) there was never a moment where I said "there's nothing to do, I'm bored." I hardly even saw my twelve year old kid because he was off on a scavenger hunt or a DJ lesson or movie-making. There were so many activities on the ship.
Phillipsburg, St. Maarten
Our first port of call after three full days at sea was Phillipsburg, the capital of Dutch St. Maarten. We rented a hotel room at the Westin on Dawn Beach in order to use the beach there. We had a great time and my 12 year old ran into some friends that he made last year who were on another ship in port. St. Maarten is a beautiful island and is one of our family's favorite. We were in port with the Navigator of the Seas, Norwegian EPIC, Regents Seven Seas Navigator, Club Med 2, and at least one other ship and everywhere you go, it was extremely crowded.
Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas
Port of call two was beautiful St. Thomas. We docked at the West Indian Company Dock, alongside the Celebrity Constellation and Norwegian Epic. In the distance, we were able to see the Allure of the Seas at the Crown Bay dock on the other side of town. We went to the Marriott with its own private beach. We were at the beach for a while and then went shopping at the mall right near the pier.
San Juan, Puerto Rico
Here's the thing: you never have a full day in Puerto Rico. We were in port from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. All we did was walk around town for a little while and it was a let-down because nothing is open that early in the morning. We were with the Navigator of the Seas, and again, everything was very crowded.
Royal Caribbean's very own private beach island. We were in dock with the Navigator of the Seas, so everything was so crowded. Most of Labadee's workers was run by workers from both ships, and there was 4 buffets set up throughout the island. There are two beaches, the rough-wave Atlantic Ocean facing beach and the very calm Columbus Cove, which faced the ship and was located in the inner bay. One last day at the beach was very fun and we weren't looking forward to heading back up to New Jersey after leaving.
Getting off of the vessel in Cape Liberty, Bayonne was a breeze, which, in my opinion, was too easy. We went from the ship to the shuttle to the taxi in under a half-hour. We already miss the ship, even though its only several days since we left. Let the countdown begin for the Norwegian Gem next February!