This is my 1st cruise review for Cruise Critic.
Explorer of the Seas: 11 December to 23 December 2011: 12 Day Eastern Caribbean
Me & DW
Having been on 6 cruises on Royal Caribbean, 5 times out of Port Canaveral and 1 time out of Tampa, we decided not to fly to Florida, but to take the Amtrak train from Central Connecticut to Newark, NJ. Having been on the Sovereign, Vision, and Freedom classes on the RC fleet, this was our 1st cruise on the Voyager class. We were scheduled to be on the Christmas Jewel of the Seas 5 day cruise out of Tampa on 24 December 2011 and the Freedom of the Seas Western Caribbean 5 day cruise out of Port Canaveral on 18 December 2011. We booked this cruise in March of 2011, and cancelled the two Florida cruises.
To The Port:
We took the 7:20 am Amtrak from Berlin, CT to Newark Penn Station on Saturday morning, December 10th. Parking was free at the train station for the 2 weeks. After getting off the train in Newark, we had reservations at the Newark Hilton Penn Station located on Raymond Blvd. After check in at 11:00 am, we had a quick coffee and a snack at the Starbucks next to the hotel. The sole purpose of the pre embarkation trip of the cruise was to see the Montreal Canadians take on the New Jersey Devils NHL game scheduled for 1:00 pm at the Prudential Center in Newark.The venue has wide corridors for the public. Montreal won the game 2-1. After the game, we were back in the hotel for the night. Dinner was at the Marketplace Cafe, the hotel's only dining venue. Since I was a Silver Hilton Honor's member, a free breakfast buffet was offered on the house for Sunday morning. This hotel is ok for one night. We would stay there again for the value. We got a local cab via the bellman for $47.00 to Bayonne at 10:15 am. We arrived at the port around 10:50 am. Thanks to megr1125 and 138east for the tip to leave early on the Cape Liberty thread on the East Coast departures boards.
After handing our suitcase to the porter, we proceeded to the Platinum + check-in line with boarding card number 6. After a quick check-in with our Seapass in hand, the boarding lounge was there with water, coffee and rock hard coconut ranger cookies. Not a good way to start a cruise. After over an hour of waiting, they announced boarding card 1 around 12:10 pm. No reason was given in the boarding area as to why the boarding was delayed. Well, at least I saw some of the NFL pregame show on the flat screens in the lounge. Boarding card number 6 was called and made our way via the 3 minute bus ride to the ship around 12:30 pm. You board the ship on deck one forward. Since others were waiting to board, we made a beeline to deck 11 aft for the Windjammer Cafe. The entree of choice on the 1st day of the cruise on any Royal Caribbean ship is the honey stung chicken, which was dry. After lunch, on deck 11 forward is the fitness center. There is a huge whirlpool in back of the check in desk. If you need a key to a locker, you hand in your seapass at the day spa desk on deck 12. With the time going by, the rooms were ready at 1:30pm. After dumping off the carry-ons, we found our second seating table on deck4. The table of 8 was big, so we gave up our seats and dined in the Windjammer Cafe during the evening meal hours. Hey, at least some of the junior officer crew were having a meal on deck 11, we even saw the Master dine with his crew. Hearing complaints of a 1+ hour meal during dinner is not fun. Our TA gave us a 200.00 OBC, so we got the soda package for 89.00, including gratuities. After walking around the boat, it was time for the muster drill, port side. The sun was setting on lower Manhattan during the drill, and the drill was over. On deck 14 is Dizzy's and the lounge was packed for sailing under the Narrows Bridge. After that, only one seating was printed in the compass for 1945, the welcome aboard show in the Palace Theatre.
Sea Days Part I:
Over 200 Cruise Critic members signed up for the M&M, which was day 2 at 1000 in the Maharajas Lounge on deck 5. The loyalty ambassador said that this was a record on the Explorer. There was a raffle, and we won a 50.00 internet credit and a RC umbrella, which came in handy in Lababee. It was nice to meet some of the fellow cruisers. It was cold outside, so the hot tubs were in action. During the rest of our sea time to Lababee was just relaxing, Breakfast and Lunch in the MDR, and Dinner in the Windjammer. A shout out for Jelena from Serbia, the host for the Windjammer. She was great during the cruise; I wish we had a WOW card. During then house morning show "How U Cruising" with CD Jimmy Rhodes with Marvin was good, and the questions from the PAX were humorous. The "Welcome Back Party" was in the theatre, with a sneak preview of RC's new ad blitz, "The Sea is calling".
We also chose to do self-disembark and were assigned letter C, a wise tip if you plan to be one of the 1st off the boat, just go to the guest relations desk on deck 5 to sign up.
Our 1st visit to Lababee was two words, rain and clouds. We walked to Adrenaline Beach, stopped at the Schooner Bar, visited the town square, and saw a yoga class on the beach in the rain. The famous zip line was shut down for a while. We headed back on board by 1100 and stayed on. The Explorer left at 1600, a half hour early with all pax on board, but the time was made up by the Master with adding an hour in St. Martin.
The Navigator of the Seas welcomed the Explorer, as they were leaving at 1400. Having visited San Juan in 2009 with the Grandeur of the Seas, we did all the tourist stuff during that visit. There is a CVS across the street, bring your extra care card for more savings. After stocking up on water and other goodies, we walked just a few yards to Senor Frogs, and had a great time. Sail away was at night, and on our way to St. Thomas.
The Serenade of the Seas and a Celebrity ship welcomed us at the Havensight pier at 0800. Using our OBC from our TA, we booked a see St. Thomas 2 Â½ tour (Fever was our guide and was excellent) with stops overlooking a scenic overlook with vendors (did some shopping) and the usual stop at the mountain top with views of world famous Magens Bay. With an order of a strawberry daiquiri instead of the famous banana daiquiri, we just briefly relaxed and enjoyed the million dollar view. After a downhill drive, Fever stopped at downtown Charlotte Amalie to drop off a few pax. The drive along the harbor was nice as we arrive back on the pier. It was lunch time and we headed off to another famous place across the street from Havensight, Hooters. With the nice Christmas lights and a $12.00 pitcher of Miller Lite, we enjoyed a leisured lunch. After a nap, Senor Frogs was just in sight (a nine iron) of our balcony, so we popped in before our scheduled sail away. We did see some of the Explorer of the Seas crewmembers enjoying the Wi-Fi services. Senor Frogs does have a pool with volleyball net in case you need to cool down. Time to go back and leave St. Thomas, with the Helipad as a vantage point for the sail away.
The Carnival Victory, a Star Clipper cruise ship and a Wind Surf cruise ship were already tied up as the Explorer of the Seas secured all lines to the pier on a sunny Saturday morning. Having visited the Dutch / French island twice, we just took the $6.00 water taxi to Phillipsburg and just walked around the boardwalk. There is a new Hard Rock Cafe that opened since our last visit near the taxi landing. The ride back to the pier was short, as the pilot house was playing Caribbean Christmas tunes. There is a mini-outdoor mall near the security entrance to the pier with outdoor bars, various local t-shirts shops, and jewelry shops. Big thanks to Little Switzerland for handing out free bags with coupons that carried our stuff back onboard. After lunch onboard, we just stayed onboard for the rest of the day. The Carnival Victory left before us, and with the additional hour by the master, it's fun to watch the pax run to make the all aboard time. Sail away was with rain, so we watched from our balcony. I did bring a Sony Walkman radio and tuned in to 95.1 FM with the Saturday night dance party, as we sailed into uncharted waters into 2 ports we never visited, Antigua and St. Kitts.
A Star Clipper cruise ship was in port as we tied up in St. John's. Having never visited this port, we had no idea on what to do. I did not research this port of call on Cruise Critic's Antigua board. A nice local steel band welcomed us on the pier. I did see the King's Casino past the security checkpoint and saw sports betting advertised. Since it was Sunday, I thought I could place a bet on the 1:00 NFL game back home. Well, the doors were locked. After a 30 minute walk with a few no thank you's around the local area, we bought a magnet thru a vendor with Eastern Caribbean currency. There was a historical harbor tour walk on with free rum or punch for $19.95 near the checkpoint; we decided not to do the unplanned tour. So with the sunshine, and its cold back home, it was relaxing to be on deck 12 with the crew's morning lifeboat drill announcements over the ship's PA system. The sail away was on deck 11 with a nice sunset. Using some internet minutes that we won, I researched St. Kitts on Cruise Critic.
The P&O Azura from Barbados met us as we docked on another sunny day. Later in the morning, the Celebrity Summit was anchored offshore, as the crew was using the ships lifeboats as tenders. As we went by the security checkpoint, the local band entertained the passengers. My short time research only had one option, the St. Kitts Marriott Resort. As we walk towards the rotary, I see a black Lexus with a crown as a license plate. After finding a local taxi, our driver Wally tells us that the Lexus was the St. Kitts Governor General who welcomes all the cruise ships, a nice touch. With a short 11 min cab ride with construction around the hotel, we pull up to the resort. I did see that you can get a day pass to the resort, but we did not buy it. The St. Kitts Marriott Resort weather station sign had a coconut on the rope. As the signs warned non guests no trespassing beyond this point, we walked around the resort edge to get to the beach, which all beaches on St. Kitts are open to the public. The cabanas and beach chairs are hotel property and may be used by hotel guests, and beach vendors are allowed to conduct business in public areas. After 25 minutes of looking, we went back to the air conditioned lobby area. The hotel also has a casino. Having worked for a hotel for a number of years, this resort is on par with some of the 4 star Orlando resorts. Lunch time was approaching, so we got the hotel doorman to get us a cab back to the St. Kitts Marina Mall area. There is a nice duty free shop past the security checkpoint and got some water for the cruise home. On the other side of the checkpoint, there is a casino with an outdoor bar offering Carib beer specials for 1.99. After lunch, we were again up on deck 12 to enjoy the sunshine. Time for sail away as the Azura sings goodbye to you Explorer, and back to Bayonne.
Sea Days Part II:
The Explorer hit some rough seas on our journey home, as the sickness bags were well advertised on the stairwells. The chefs put out the Gingerbread house in a blocked off section of the Windjammer, with the train and Christmas lights. The Platinum + ice show Four Seasons was good (try the deep blue sea). Trivia games were held in the Schooner Bar on deck 4, as our team did not win one game. As we were off the Norfolk area on our last day with overcast clouds, Swiss time was running out. Our state room attendant was ok, not the best that we hoped for on our 12 day cruise.
Our assigned meeting place for self-disembark was the Maharajas Lounge on deck 5. With the letter C, a staff member had an express elevator for those who chose to carry off their own luggage. Customs was a breeze as we looked for the taxi dispatcher on the pier for the ride to the Newark Penn Station. With a 90 minute wait; we had time to kill in the Hilton's hotel lobby and paid a visit to the Starbucks next door to the hotel. Arrival was at 11:03 and the train was packed 2 days before Christmas. The train pulled into the Berlin station a few minutes late, load the luggage, and go home.
I wrote this review a couple of months later after our sailing. The ship is outdated, as the deck department was over the sides in St. Kitts and St. Martin trying their best to make the Explorer look good. After the Costa Concordia disaster, it was great to see the lifeboats in St. John's harbor, and the crew looking out for the guests. The Royal Promenade is a little shorter than on the Freedom or Oasis Class. The dining was average, as we had dinners in the Windjammer. It was nice to see the Master and some of his officers have dinner upstairs with the passengers. The ice cream station that was nightly was a great touch. There was none of the popular beer cooler bags that are a hit on the other RC ships. As for the "smell" that has been discussed on the boards, we did not find any smell, but the toilet was backed up a couple of times in our aft cabin. There were a few rude passengers during our sailing as the price dropped just weeks before the Explorer left Cape Liberty. Speaking of Cape Liberty, when are they going to dredge the turning basin? We discussed that our Freedom of the Seas 2009 Eastern Caribbean Christmas cruise was our best, but this 12 day cruise just missed the basket with 1 second remaining.