This was my third cruise and first time on Explorer. We did read CC reviews beforehand and joined a very active M&M group online. Without question, we had a great time and would sail on Explorer again.
We drove up from Virginia the morning of departure and parked ($19/day) at the port. We chose to park and roll our bags to the "tent" terminal instead of waiting in the luggage drop off line, and highly suggest everyone do this. We arrived at 10:30am, quickly went through check in, and then waited for about 45 minutes to load the bus and get on the ship. Surprisingly quick embarkation for the chaotic terminal that is being replaced now with the construction of a new terminal. We then fought the crowds at the Windjammer and had a first cocktail at the Sky Bar. Vacation began!
Our room 8618 (hump cabin with balcony) was a perfect size for two, clean, and comfortable. Our cabin steward Henry wasn't seen often, but our room always was cleaned up throughout the trip. Yes, we had an older tube TV (I didn't really care) and the furniture was a little scuffed, but nothing that ruined our vacation. The lid/seat on our toilet broke on the 6th day and was replaced within 6 hours and I never had to say anything, as it was repaired automatically.
The ship looks great. Ignore the nay-sayers who say she is poor condition. Yes, it is not new, but the maintenance staff could be seen all week painting, cleaning, and keeping her in good condition. I am impressed with how good it looks knowing there are 3000+ on her every week for over 12 years.
Food in the MDR was good to excellent each night. Some items better than others, and when I didn't like something, our waiter brought me something else. Our waiter Christopher and assistant waiter Maria did a super job keeping us happy, with plenty of Asiago cheese rolls, more than one appetizer each, and always asked if we wanted to try different entrées. We did dress in tuxes on the two formal nights, and about 25% that we saw did as well. But many wore nice suits, and that was fine. Lastly, The Windjammer is a buffet and always had plenty of options to choose from. The fresh omelet station is a must in the mornings.
We only watched one of the main theatre shows, and it was pretty good. We preferred spending our evenings in the lounges listening to live bands. Really enjoyed the Latin group Azucar in the Aquarium bar and C Wind Band in Dizzy's. Wasn't much of a fan of the piano guy in the Schooner bar. Even though the ship was sold out, we never had a problem finding a deck chair, and enjoyed the pools and Jacuzzis often. The best bartender is Arif at the Sky Bar. Go see him! The poolside fun was a mix of DJ music, Caribbean music group Umoja 4, line dancing, and games and contest. All fine. The cruise director Leigh and activities director Irky are both great. The best piece of entertainment is the Ice Show. Fantastic performances and a not to be missed activity. We also partook of the Casino with some blackjack and slots and always had fun. Beware of the smoking in there if you are easily bothered by that. We also enjoyed the rock climbing wall and mini golf. So much to do onboard, I can't see how people get bored.
Ports we visited were all good: Bermuda we went snorkeling, St. Maarten we took a taxi to Moho Beach to watch the airplanes land, San Juan we went to the Bacardi factory and then shopped, and on Labadee we just relaxed on the beach. Didn't spend a lot of money in ports and still had a great time each day.
Sadly, the cruise had to come to an end. 9 nights is great cruise length. We did self assist disembarkation, which means we carried our own bags off the ship. We got off very quickly but heard others had a horrific experience with disembarking.
In summary, Explorer is a fantastic ship with a super staff. No, it is not a shiny new bauble, but they do take care of her. We enjoyed our cruise immensely and are booked for another RCI cruise for summer of 2015.
Clean and comfortable cabin. This is on the "hump" and we had great views front and aft of the ship.