The embarkation process in Miami was quick and easy. We had stayed at the Epic Hotel near the cruise terminal so it was a short cab ride over. Other than its speed and ease there is not much to say about embarkation. That's probably it a good thing. It was smooth!
There were parts of this cruise that were exceptional. For example, the Main Dining Room staff (Alan - Head Waiter, Lin - Waiter, and Uragil - Assistant Waiter) were absolutely exceptional. We have never had better service or a more personalized presentations. The pool areas were always crowded but the staff of the pool bar and everyone involved in the sports programming did a fantastic job. These crews are among the finest we have encountered on any Royal Caribbean cruise.
As far as entertainment goes, the headline show in the Main Theater was a Motown thing. Good performers, just not a very interesting show. The ice show in Studio B was, again, good performers but not a very interesting show. The band Midnight Avenue that played in the Star Lounge over and over was fantastic and their singer (Faith) is incredibly talented. Stuff like the 70s and 80s parties was done well enough.
But the New Years party was atrocious and seemed completely unplanned. This is our third New Years cruise and the entertainment on New Years Eve this time was just plain terrible. The cruise director, Mike, stood on the promenade bridge and sang a couple of weak versions of Stevie Wonder songs. In fact, most of the stuff that Mike did was dull. He seems like a nice enough guy but he does not ooze the fun like many cruise directors do.
Another issue that repeatedly arose was the fact that many of the bars were running out of top spirits. It was as if there had not been a bar stock in a long long while. If you wanted Botanist gin, Four Roses bourbon, Buffalo Trace bourbon, or Pyrat rum the odds were about 20/80 that they had it versus did not have it.
Our teenagers had a great time with Optix and seemed to really enjoy the activities there. The helipad became a late evening spot for the teens...some of that was good, some not so good as a few of the teens were rowdy and cursing at other passengers in the are...trying to look cool, no doubt. But, all in all a pretty good group with pretty good programming.
Our first port was Labadee. Weather was great and we hung out at Columbus Beach. We did not do an excursion but found plenty to do. For our first trip to Labadee we were impressed. The views along the beaches were great.
Our second port was Aruba. We did a sail and beach excursion which was decent but not incredible. The natural beauty of Aruba was the feature, as it should have been, and the crew gave us a good tour of Aruba's history and significance. The drinks on the sailboat were included but were pretty much horrible. The drinks at the beach were included but were made on the ship and were pretty much horrible. Real cheap ingredients. That said, Palm Beach, where Pelican Pier is located, was a nice place to spend a few hours. If you're ever in Aruba on New Years Eve, expect fireworks everywhere. Like miles of firecrackers lit at a time. Insane. Most of the stores close early but restaurants and bars stay open for New Years Eve.
Our third port was Bonaire. We rented a golf cart and drove the north part of the island. Navigation can get kind of wild up there and lots of one way streets make it difficult but Google Maps proved quite good at getting us around. There are some areas of the coastline with cliffs and beaches that are beyond words beautiful. We did not do the southern side of the island...but the folks at the golf cart rental recommend it more than north. Lots of stuff was closed because this was New Years Day. The little distillery in Rincon was open. Nice place. Good people. Not much to see at the distillery though. Golf cart rental was a great way to get around the island.
Our fourth port of call was Curacao. We did the Discover Curacao shore excursion and it was excellent. In fact the whole experience that we had in Curacao was excellent. The sea walls, the fort, the floating bridge. It's an amazing place. Among our favorites.
The ship itself was in great order and looked fantastic. The Main Dining Room food, for the most part, was excellent. We did not do any specialty dining.
All in all, a good but not great cruise. I would go on Explorer again just for the Main Dining Room staff, they were that good. But, then again, our next cruise is already planned on the Oasis.
Clean, small. All we could get at the time of booking. Well handled by the housekeeping staff.