This was our 4th cruise with Royal Caribbean and the first three were all great!!! Now, we have experienced something a bit different from what we were expecting….. This was not the cruise vacation we had expected, but then again, maybe ... Read More
This was our 4th cruise with Royal Caribbean and the first three were all great!!! Now, we have experienced something a bit different from what we were expecting….. This was not the cruise vacation we had expected, but then again, maybe our expectations were overly high. Don’t get me wrong, the vacation was not horrible. But it also wasn’t spectacular. Disclaimer: this review is entirely my opinion!! Others on the same cruise may have found it to be great. The other two couples we met on the cruise were also disappointed, so I also know that my opinions are not only mine.
The Explorer of the Seas is part of Royal Caribbean’s Voyager class of ships. In my opinion, they are the workhorse of the fleet. They hold over 3,000 guests and employ a crew of hundreds. Although there are over 3,000 guests on board, I did not feel the problem of crowding that many people do. The ship is quite spacious.
The cruise departed Cape Liberty, Bayonne, NJ. This is where the trip got off on the wrong foot. Previous cruises we have taken allowed us to deposit our baggage with a porter, check-in, take the mandatory pre-cruise picture that they try to sell you, and then allow you to board. At Cape Liberty, you do all of it, except board. Upon check-in, you are given a number and you have to go to a waiting area until your number is called. The waiting area is just that and we had to wait about 45 minutes until our number was called. Then we had to cram into a shuttle bus and be driven to the boat. Once we got off the bus, it was into another line to log into the ship’s security system and then wait for an elevator to go up from the embarkation deck (deck one). The elevator line was ridiculously long, so we opted for the stairs. We were told our stateroom was ready so we headed there first to drop off our backpacks and check out our room. We had an interior cabin, nothing thrilling. We decided to do it cost-effectively and save some money. The cabin was old and the room attendant was nice, although not incredibly good at his job. I bent down to pick something up from the floor and found old sunflower seeds under the bed. Yes, you do have to bend over to vacuum under the bed!!
We decided to acclimate ourselves with the ship and grab some lunch in the Windjammer café. As we had been on two of her sister ships on previous cruises, we knew the ship well and started to relax on our vacation. The emergency procedures drill was completed with efficiency and professionalism and before we knew it, we were on our way. Everybody was quite excited and we were happy to finally be on vacation. Our luggage arrived shortly after departure and we unpacked and stowed everything. Dinner was a casual night but as we were even more relaxed than casual, we had dinner in the Windjammer. Mongolian stir fry was the specialty and we were happy to enjoy the freshly cooked dinner. There were other generic items in the café and there was never a fear of starvation! The crew was polite and efficient, although with little personality. My theory on that coming up later. We enjoyed the rest of the evening with the Welcome Aboard show which included a comedian, the ship’s orchestra, and the ship’s Cruise Director. Here’s a highlight of the cruise! The Cruise Director, an Aussie named Leigh Xuereb was absolutely fantastic!!! This guy was high energy, funny, and everything you want in a Cruise Director. Although we didn’t have a chance to meet him one-on-one earlier in the cruise (though our own fault), we did enjoy a nice conversation with him on the last night. He is top notch and I hope Royal Caribbean knows what they have in him.
Day two was a day cruising. There were plenty of activities to do on the ship and if you were bored, it was mainly your own fault! Although we were cruising south at 22 knots, it was a bit chilly on the outside decks, though there were still quite a few people sitting outside and in the hot tubs. No complaints on this day and we were well on our way to experiencing the Royal Caribbean WOW that they are often advertising.
Day three was a beautiful day as we were now off the coast of Florida cruising towards Port Canaveral. The sun was shining and our weary winter bones were starting to thaw out. We had purchased the Disney Express Service excursion through Royal Caribbean and had someone meeting us at the parks with tickets to go in. Our instructions were to meet in the dining room at 1PM, and that the shuttle would leave at 1:30PM with an arrival at Disney at about 2:45PM. This was fine for us as we already knew that there wasn’t a lot of time to be had. Unfortunately, the excursion was incredibly disorganized and when we finally left the port for the park, it was already 2:15PM. So we lost now 45 minutes of our already short time ashore. We had a quick and fun visit at Hollywood Studios and Epcot Center, and then headed back to the ship for our 10:00PM departure. We were exhausted by the time we got back but forced ourselves to the adult comedy of Jeff Nease.
On day four, we visited Nassau, Bahamas. Once again, beautiful weather and we looked forward to another warm day. We had no excursion planned and only planned to go into the town and stroll the shops and do a little souvenir shopping. We had been to Nassau before so we knew what to expect and didn’t have much in mind to do. After a nice day, we made our way to dinner on the ship and spent our first dinner in the formal dining room. We were at a table with three other couples and we all had a very good time together. We were lucky to have some very nice people dining with us.
We left Nassau at midnight and headed to Coco Cay, Royal Caribbean’s private section of the Bahamas. As this cay is so small, the plan was that the ship would drop anchor and tender boats would bring us in to the shore for a day of fun in the sun and on the beach. Unfortunately, the waves were so strong and high that the Captain decided to not stay in the interest of the safety of the passengers. I can’t condemn him for his decision. I consider him the expert and his first priority is the safety of the passengers and crew. So, we started heading back to Cape Liberty a day earlier than originally planned. This meant that we would have three days at sea on the way back. The Captain told us that the ship would travel at about 13 knots in order to arrive back in Cape Liberty by Sunday morning, our scheduled arrival time. We headed east into the deep Atlantic and the seas started to become a bit rough. It was not a problem for me, but you could see that others were not enjoying it. The Captain made several announcements advising passengers that there would be moderate seas for the next couple of days and that passengers should make sure they use the railings while traveling on the stairs.
Three days at sea and the crew was definitely hard at work making sure there were plenty of things to do. The Cruise Director Leigh and his sidekick, Activities Manager Andre the Dre, were quite visible and did a very good job scrambling to create activities for the guests. Once again, hats off to Leigh and his team!!!
The last night of the cruise is not only filled with trying to have some last minute vacation fun, but also with having to pack. It’s the sad reality that vacation is coming to an end. My wife received 5 bracelets from her father at Disney in a nice Disney-themed box. Along with two other boxes with bracelets in them, we had left them on our table in the cabin. We went to dinner and enjoyed the final night with our new friends and the farewell show. As we finished packing up our belongings in preparation for disembarkation, my wife asked me if I had already packed the box with her bracelets. My negative reply to her brought tears to her eyes as the box was now missing. We searched high and low and found nothing. I confronted our cabin attendant asking him if he had seen the box. He confirmed that he had seen the three boxes on the table, but did not know where the one box had gone. I did not accuse him of theft, frankly I had no evidence. He suggested we go to the customer service desk to report the missing items. We filled out the necessary form and the customer service agent called security, only to find out that security was too busy with the docking process to come and speak with us. Basically, we were SOL. So now, we simply wanted off the boat.
Getting off the boat was a nightmare!!!! We chose the “express” option where we have to carry off our own luggage. Our assigned time to disembark was 10:30AM, which we though was very late. Every other cruise wanted you off as quickly as possible!! Additionally, we had a car waiting for us at 9! We waited about 30 minutes for an elevator, in the end going up to deck 11, only to have to come back to deck 1 for disembarkation. Once again, it was a mess at Cape Liberty with the shuttle service. Hundreds of people carrying suitcases and cramming into the buses. Fortunately, US Immigration and Customs was a breeze!! Believe it or not, we were out in about 10 minutes after finally getting off the shuttle bus.
Time for some final impressions:
- Royal Caribbean charges gratuities automatically now for the staff. So there is guaranteed money coming to the staff. This takes away the incentive to go above and beyond and the staff seems to know this. This was the first cruise I was on that I didn’t get to know the cabin attendant and his family!! Usually I know more about them than I do about most people. The staff seemed to be very robotic and lack personality.
- Cape Liberty is a disaster. A massive infrastructure under the direction of the monopolistic Port Authority and they don’t even have a respectable terminal for the processing of passengers? This was a major disappointment.
- The inability to stop at Coco Cay was disappointing, but I can’t fault the Captain. His decision was purely driven by safety and I commend him for taking this decision.
- The Explorer of the Seas is in desperate need of a renovation. It’s really become an old ship and is heavily used. There were light bulbs out all over the place and I think the maintenance crew of the ship is probably overworked with their workload and don’t have much time to do some renovation work.
- Did I mention that Cape Liberty is a mess???
- The lack of attention by the security team in a possible theft situation was disheartening. What if the situation were more critical? Do they really have so few security officers that one couldn’t be brought to us to discuss the issue? By the way, after we got home, we tore everything apart and the bracelets are definitely missing.
- The food was not spectacular. No, we did not go hungry and there was always something good to eat. Breakfast was the best and freshest. Made to order omelets, made to order eggs, fresh fruit, baked goods, etc. The food in the main dining room was not very exciting and some food even came out cold. When I complained about something, I was only offered another meal. Frankly, when I complain about food, I expect someone to actually do something about it, not just offer me another meal.
- The headline entertainment was very good. It was not excellent simply because their headline show was horrible. I had trouble staying awake. In fact, the lady next to me was snoring, which is probably what kept me awake!! However, their comedians, traditional show, and the musical act of Edge Effect were great. The ice show was also very good and should not be missed.
- We didn’t have the kids with us on this trip (good thing!!) so we did not experience Adventure Ocean, the children’s program. However, our past experience is that it is good, but Royal does not cater to kids. If you want a cruise company that caters to kids, then you need to cruise Disney.
- Will I cruise on the Explorer of the Seas again? That’s a 50/50 question. I like the itineraries that it does, but I don’t like the current state of the ship. If the difference is in the Cruise Director and its Leigh, then I am there. He was really fantastic!!!
- Will I cruise with Royal Caribbean again? Most likely. Face it, they are the best, although many people on the way out said they would stick with Celebrity, which is Royal’s sister company.
- By the way, did I mention that Cape Liberty is a mess????