Explorer of the Seas Embarkation Process at New Jersey Cape Liberty Cruise Port
This was our first Royal Caribbean cruise, and unfortunately we did not feel the proper treatment at the embarkation area. Knowing that the Cape Liberty Cruise port can be a nightmare traffic-wise to enter, we booked our ride out of our pre-cruise hotel (the terrific Courtyard by Marriott Newport Jersey City) to leave at around 9:20 AM. We got there at 9:45 AM, and were amongst probably the first 25 or so guests to arrive. There was no traffic, no problem, and we fully expected to be in the first group to board the Explorer of the Seas.
Were we ever wrong. Boarding began at around 11:45 AM, and we were appalled to find out that "Gold"/Crowne & Anchor members (past cruisers) got to all go in first, even if they have just arrived into the waiting area. We had to wait for 10 groups of guests before it was finally our turn. This was important because of the chaos that occurs at the Windjammer buffet. If you are not in one the first groups to board, get ready for a very difficult time finding seats amongst the sea of people. We had a stroller and it was just a nightmare. Finally after over 20 minutes looking for a table, we finally found one to share. So it was definitely one of the worst embarking process we have experienced. I understand that loyalty members should have some perks, but extreme priority boarding is well, going way over-board.
Another first we experienced during this embarkation process was that you need to ride a shuttle bus in order to reach the ship itself. It was about a 5 minute ride, and we entered the boat via deck 1. Very strange, but apparently Royal Caribbean will be renovating its Cape Liberty cruise terminal in 2014, and complete, this oddity will be a thing of the past.
The only pros of this process was that cookies & coffee were served in large plastic vats, and the actual check-in process was fairly quick. They did not come close to making up for the terrible boarding delay for first-time RCCL passengers, however.
As far as sail-away party goes, there wasn't really much of one, and certainly not festive nor energetic. There was no barbeque, either. The Sailaway Parade at 10:30 PM in the same evening, on the other hand, was certainly a terrific experience. Royal Caribbean staff poured into the mall-like Royal Promenade area donned colorful costumes accompanied by upbeat music & colorful lighting. There was a woman on stilts, prince & princesses dressed in Middle Eastern royal garment, large animal props, a giant panda, elephant on a float, and even a belly dancer. The "show" ended with confetti falling from the ceiling. It was easily the highlight of the first evening on board, and I highly recommend that you get there early to have a good view of the spectacle. Even our three year old toddler enjoyed it!
Explorer of the Seas Inside Stateroom Cabin Review
Our cabin was an interior stateroom located on deck 9 forward. The first impression we had when we saw it was- wow it is OUTDATED. We knew the Explorer was born back in 1999, but apparently they did not have much, if any, remodeling since then. The walls were light beige, with Grandma-esque wooden trim. There was large circular mirror with the same wooden trim hanging above the bed, while the desk had pinkish cabinet/drawers. There was a fat old-school cathode-ray TV on a swivel platform next to the desk, the first we have seen these type of TV's in recent years. Not that we were yearning for meeting with this relic of the past again, of course- on the contrary. In fact, the power button was missing, and the remote failed to turn it on. Upon our report, maintenance did come and fix it later while we were at dinner, but certainly it was sloppy job by the hotel staff in ensuring that everything in the cabin works before new guests arrival.
The thermostat was, yes, analog. There was a day bed sofa in the room, with a curtain that can be used to divide the main bed from the rest of the cabin, which was a nice touch. A soft wall panel was slightly dislodged from the wall, however.
Bar soap was provided next to the sink in the bathroom and on a tray in the shower. The faucet had a very low flow-rate. We brought our own water filter and it was a bit frustrating trying to fill it. The shower head did have nice pressure, though again seemed outdated. Shampoo was provided via a dispenser, but it would have been nice to have body gel instead of bar soap.
The bed was firm but comfortable. We requested a crib for our toddler, and were able to fit it after moving the bed against one side of the cabin. BTW there was no Wi-fi wireless internet access inside the cabin, again something that we have no experienced in recent years. It may be possible to get wireless signal in your stateroom if it is located midship, as many of the Internet hotspots are around there.
Review of the Explorer of the Seas Public Areas
Unlike the outdated cabins, the public areas of the ship had tasteful decor and didn't look a decade old. An impressive metal sculpture statue hangs from the forward upper decks, while a piece with curving branches protruded up from deck 2 up to deck 5. The heart of the ship was at the Royal Promenade on deck 5. The shopping center-like area spans multiple decks in height, with natural lighting coming in through the roof during the day. Select cabins have windows that overlook the plaza. Souvenir shops, bars line its sides, and a small eatery called the Promenade Cafe is located there as well.
We were assigned the Columbus Dining Room for My Time Dining. It was well decorated, clean, though nothing stood out. Once thing we would have liked was to be able to eat at different dining rooms, but alas, this isn't Norwegian Cruise Line.
Outside, up on the sports decks, there was a nicely appointed sports court with a climbing wall that overlooks it. Miniature golf was nearby, and so was an area just for roller skating. Speaking of skating- you can even try out ICE-skating at Studio B down on deck 2.
There were several pool areas on deck 11. The section at midship on the pool deck was designed for everyone to enjoy, while the Solarium area pool is more for adults, and a shallow kids' pool was located at the rear of the ship. Interestingly, the only water slide was located at the children's pool area.
The gym was stocked with nice treadmills and other fitness equipment. You could be using it and have a beautiful view of the ocean at the same time. Regrettably we did not get a chance to use it on this cruise.
Royal Caribbean Cruise Food Review Aboard Explorer of the Seas
In general, we enjoyed the food at the main dining room (MDR) and at the Windjammer Cafe Buffet. Our servers Rakesh & Berkay provided great service, so that really helped the dining the experience overall. The food at the MDR were better in general versus NCL. There were usually nice seafood appetizers and main course entrees, where as on Norwegian cruises lately there was a dearth of shrimp and scallops as ingredients. The lobster tail was impressively large on lobster night. I would have to say that our MDR food aboard our Caribbean Princess cruise edged out Explorer of the Seas.
Some of the best appetizers & dishes we had aboard included the Broiled Lobster of course, Creamed Mushrooms in Flaky Pastry, Roasted Rack of Lamb, Crab cake with basil aioli, Shrimp Ravioli, Royal Shrimp Cocktail, & Bay Scallop Gratin. Notable desserts included the Moist Almond Chocolate Cake & the Double Strawberry Cheesecake.
Our first lunch experience at the Windjammer Cafe buffet was, as we had previously mentioned, vexing. We could not find a table for a long time, and the food was not very good. Windjammer did provide better offerings after that, however. Notably, there was a Mongolian BBQ/Grill area a couple of the dinners where you can have a bunch of meat stir fried with noodles doused with delicious and spicy sauces. The buffet also offered a rotation of different country-themed foods such as American, Italian, and Japanese. The section of the buffet called Jade was our favorite, as it often had curry and somewhat authentic Asian dishes.
Windjammer had one major con going against it, however, and that was its short dinner operating hours. It does not open until 6:30 PM, and closes promptly at 9 PM. NCL's Garden Buffet opens at 5 PM and doesn't shutdown until 9:30 PM. The buffet aboard Caribbean Princess also had longer opening hours. Another thing we did not like was the use of plastic cups for hot drinks at Windjammers. Hot liquid and plastic should not mix, even BPA-free ones. Norwegian provided the option of ceramic cups at the Garden Cafe buffet.
If you wanted something to eat late at night, other than room service, the Promenade Cafe was pretty much the only other choice. And that is not saying a lot at all since it had spartan choices. You can get pizza, deli sandwiches, some sweets, fruit you have to peel yourself, and that's pretty much it. There certainly was no burgers, hot soup, fish and chips, wings, etc.
Royal Caribbean Explorer of the Seas Entertainment Review
The Explorer of the Seas, we felt, provided a good variety of entertainment. Comedy was courtesy of Robbie Printz, who was very funny in both the opening show and the adults-only show. It got a little uncomfortable though when he got into it with a female heckler in the latter performance. The dancers and singers were pretty average- they tried and put out some energetic shows. The Tribute Temptations imitation group put on a nice performance, as did entertainer Tony Pace who was quite funny during the final farewell show.
Leigh Xuereb was certainly one of the funniest and well-spoken Cruise Directors we have seen. His assistant Erky from Turkey was pretty humorous himself.
The entertainment highlight for us was the Ice Skating show (check out our gallery of photos of this great ice skating show performance). Apparently the group of skaters had been practicing a new Seasons-inspired show and this cruise was the first to experience it. They fell quite a few times, but the production & energy were excellent. The skaters wore bright colored costumes, even held umbrellas, tossed beach balls, and rode bikes on ice. The pair of male/female gymnasts were especially impressive with their display of strength and timing on bars above ice. It was definitely a unique experience we had never seen on a cruise- highly recommended.
Royal Caribbean Explorer of the Seas Service Review
In general, the service provided was very good aboard the ship. As previously mentioned, we were very happy with our waiter and his assistant. Our room steward was a woman named Skarlet who was courteous and responsive. We experience some cruises where our room steward would pretty much avoid talking to us, but Skarlet did not hide and often voluntarily asked if we needed anything when we saw her in the hallway.
We also used the Adventure Ocean, the onboard kid's activity program for our 3 year-old. We liked how they separated the kids into different groups based on age such as between 3 and 5 year old. On NCL, they clumped kids 3 through 11 together, which we thought was too large of a range. The youth staff was friendly and did a good job with activities and watching our son. Technology-wise, however, the place lags way behind NCL. Check-in/check-out require manual writing of entries containing the same information, whereas aboard the Norwegian Gem the room keycards were all that were needed after registration. Another annoyance was how you had to walk through the arcade in order to reach Adventure Ocean room. There is a side entrance, but they do not allow you to go through that way, strangely enough.
Explorer of the Seas Bermuda Cruise Port Review
The ship docked 3 days at King's Wharf, on the northwest end of Bermuda. The weather was beautiful the first day, we used the opportunity to explorer the Bermuda Naval Dockyard, which was within easy walking distance from the cruise pier. There is a shuttle that looks like a train that will transport you around the area, but service is pretty slow. At this locaiton, we certainly recommend the National Museum of Bermuda/Commissioner's House, Dockyard Glassworks where they have nice souvenirs, rum cakes and a glass blowing demonstration, and the surprisingly enjoyable Snorkel Park Beach.
The second day was rainy, but we took the Beach Bus (#7) to Horseshoe Bay Beach. Cost was $15 per person for a 1-day bus/ferry pass for each adult, with kids under 5 riding for free. Horseshoe Bay did not disappoint- it was certainly one of the most beautiful beaches we have ever seen, with the rock formations and the pink sand. On return bus trip, we dropped by the Gibbs Hill Lighthouse, which offered incredible 360 views of the island. The ticket was only $2.50 per person to climb the lighthouse.
The third day rained harder, unfortunately, but we still enjoyed a good two hours at the Snorkel Park Beach. Overall, Bermuda was a fun destination, and we look forward to returning and visiting more beaches and the other end of the island. You can view more pictures at our photo gallery of Bermuda.
Despite a very rocky start, our vacation aboard the Royal Caribbean Explorer of the Seas was enjoyable and enlightening. The ship is showing its age, especially in the cabin, but the service was terrific, and the entertainment & food were good. We enjoyed exploring Bermuda and its rich history plus beautiful locales. My overall rating for this cruise is 4 out of 5, and certainly would recommend it to others.
RCCL Explorer of the Seas Bermuda Cruise Pros
Very good service at main dining room (Rakesh and his helper server Berkey at Columbus dining room), though food does come out a bit slowly (but can be faster if you request it)
Cruise Director Leigh was one of the more humorous ones we have seen
Skating show was fantastic
Many areas such as sports/basketball court available 24 hours
Many physical activities such as roller blading, ice skating, & rock-climbing in addition to the usual sports court
Good sized lobster
Quite a few different entertainment acts
Mongolian Grill at the Windjammer Cafe for dinner
Good selection of Asian fare at Windjammer Cafe
Embarking process that overly favors Crown Anchor members; it was annoying to, despite arriving early, see 10 groups of "priority" guests board before you, even though you were amongst the firsts to arrive at port. This is actually important because of the chaos at the Windjammer Cafe directly after boarding- finding a table to sit and eat became a stressful task.
Outdated stateroom with defects such as the TV not working, peeling paneling, & slow water flow from faucet
Windjammer Buffet restaurant opens late at 6:30PM and closes relatively early at 9 PM
Like Princess, lack of ceramic cups at buffet & drink stations; not too happy about having to drink hot tea or coffee out of plastic cups
Strong smell of smoke from casino inside the Royal Promenade, the central hub of the ship
Food options at the 24-hour Promenade Cafe not very impressive; no burgers or other comfort food available
Lack Wi-fi internet access in cabin
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