Explorer of the Seas Review; Feb 27, 2011
Background: We are both 55 and have been on 25 previous cruises, mostly RCCI. We have sailed Explorer several times before.
Ship: Explorer is a lovely ship and easy to get around. It is showing some wear however. The hot tubs especially need attention. They are badly discolored and would give a horrible first impression to anyone new to cruising or to the Explorer.
Inside cabin 7337 is in a great location with stairs and elevators close by. There is no cabin on one side, so it helped keep it quiet. We like to walk when we can and avoid elevators, and it was only three flights down to dinner and four to the pool or Windjammer. The only down side was that there is zero room on either side of the bed when made up for a couple. You have to crawl in from the bottom since the edge of the bed butts up against the TV stand on one side and the couch on the other. This would be a major problem for someone who had physical problems preventing that crawl. If you were ill it would not be fun either.
Perhaps the best we have ever had overall. Our waiter was excellent
(Leonardo, table 468 in the DeGamma Dining Room), and our assistant waiter (Oscar, who left after our cruise to go home on vacation) could be a comedian as a second job. By the way, if you get this table it is in a terrific location. It is a window table for 6 and is not too close to a waiter’s station.
Our room steward, Miguel, was also great (quiet, but efficient) and responded quickly to all our requests. The Cruise director Chris Northey was very good. We enjoyed his morning talks (don’t miss the one on disembarkation day). The Captain, Olav Nysteter, was the most visible of any we have had. He even walked through the dining room the last evening, shaking hands and posing for pictures. He did three announcements during the day, 9 am or so, noon, and dinnertime. His Captain’s Corner question and answer session held on a sea day was very interesting and entertaining. He is easier to understand than some captains, and has a good sense of humor. He has been with Royal C 49 yrs!
The staff in general was friendly and most were cheerful.
First of all, the weather cooperated for the most part, which always helps. We tend not to take ship excursions. We like to find a beautiful beach and stay as long as possible.
We have been there many times. It is beautiful and this time the weather was superb. Sunny, with a nice breeze, and not humid. We stayed out 8:30 - 4. The new dock is a terrific improvement, although it meant the removal of our favorite beach, Hideaway. We parked on the ocean side and enjoyed that lovely breeze all day. There was a baby squid who hung around for hours in the water just off the sand.
The barbecue was a bit sad, we thought. The same old burgers, hot dogs, chicken, etc. Our “cole slaw” had no dressing. The deserts were lacking- sponge cake, spice cake, cookies, fruit. Nothing to get excited about.
Be sure to take a walk around, especially up by the Dragon’s bar - beautiful views.
Although it hurt our budget we signed up for the beach excursion to Cayo Levantado, on the advice of Cruise Critic reviews. $44 pp for a 10 min tender to a beach and a chair is nuts, but that is the only way to get there. So we shelled it out and were glad we did. It would have been a crime to stay on board and miss this beach.
We met in the Palace Theater and then took a 10 min or so ride to a nearby island. It was gorgeous - super soft white sand and lots of trees for shade. The chairs are included in the “excursion” price. Also available at additional cost: barbecue, beach bar, including beachside waiter service, massage, snorkel equipment, mats, kayaks, shopping for local crafts and jewelry, T-shirts, etc. There was a sign advertising a “sea lion encounter”.
Maybe we were just lucky but it never got over crowded here and even thinned out as the day went on. Our excursion was listed as 9-1 pm, but you can actually stay until the last tender back to the ship. We left about 3 pm, and hated to go. By the way, you have a great view of the ship anchored off Samana from Cayo so you can get some nice pictures.
So we never actually ever saw Samana. Our tablemates took a taxi tour to see a falls ( ? name) which included a bit of a hike. They enjoyed it. Others took a whale watching tour and got to see a number of whales, including babies. During the sail away the captain announced whales on the port side of the ship, but we missed them.
We have been to Magen’s Bay, Sapphire, Morningstar, and Emerald Beaches in St Thomas, and Emerald is our favorite (they are all nice), so off to Emerald we went. Upon leaving the ship we quickly discovered that the taxis have moved since we were on the island last. We walked through the fence to where they used to eagerly wait and they all completely ignored us! The long line of taxis waiting there must all be for excursions.
After asking for help we were told to go “over there” and eventually made our way to the new taxi waiting area on the end of the portside shops, next to the street. We saw one sign with an arrow, but it is not well marked at all. And when we got there they were unorganized and unhelpful. I asked our driver why they made the change and he said there is new management. We have a family member with mobility problems and he would have required a wheelchair just to get to the taxis.
Emerald Beach cost $7 pp each way and is a quick 10 min trip. It is near the airport so if planes taking off now and then bother you, choose another beach. There were not many people on the beach when we went. The sun was shining on the water when we arrived, pelicans were diving, and there were some nice yachts in the harbor. Sadly, the sun disappeared about 30 min after we got there, never to be seen again. When it started really raining at 11:30 we left for the ship and lunch and barely missed a huge downpour.
Looking down on those poor souls running for the ship we noticed a new Senior Frogs and a butterfly farm very close to the ship. Hopefully there will be a next time here to check them out because we love St Thomas.
Here is where we made our only real boo boo (ok, I made it, but I did use Cruise Critic port comments). We chose to go to Cockleshell Beach and would have been happier elsewhere.
The taxi ride, a van with about 8 of us, cost $6.50 pp each way. It took about 30 min, with a brief stop for pictures. We had driver Leroy Jones, who was very personable and had a great, deep, voice. He pointed out various sights along the way and made the picture stop without being asked. He stopped where the Atlantic and Caribbean Oceans meet, a beautiful spot. The ride as a whole was gorgeous. We saw monkeys in the road along the way. You can see the island of Nevis from this beach.
When we reached the beach we were dropped off at the Reggae Beach bar end. It looked like it would get crowded there (and indeed it did) so we took a long walk down the beach to the right. After a bit, there was almost constant “poo” on the beach, making it difficult to walk along the water without stepping in it. (Horses, dog, pig ??)
Eventually we went back to Reggae and rented two chairs and an umbrella for $15. If you don’t get to this beach early you may find the umbrellas are all gone. Later we were treated to the lovely smell of barnyard animals from the pig, goat, and monkey kept in cages just in back of the beach chairs. DH and I both grew up in the country and did not come to the Caribbean to smell pig. The animals were right in back of the shade trees. I don’t know how the people laying under the trees could stand the smell. Pigs do not smell like roses!
Anyway, we stayed a couple hours and returned back to the ship for lunch. After lunch we spent a little time shopping at the shops right off the ship. They have the same old T-shirts and jewelry, etc.
From comments from other passengers next time we will try The Marriott or South Friars Bay. For those of you who enjoy tours, we met a husband and wife who did the railroad and catamaran tour and enjoyed it very much.
Last year we went to Valley Church Beach which was pretty, but got very crowded so we wanted to choose another beach this time. At the suggestion of another passenger who had been to Antigua many times we went to Dickinson Beach. We were very pleased with this beach. The cab was $3 pp
(There were 5 of us in the cab, not sure if that makes a difference in the rates) and it was only a 10-15 min ride. The ride was shorter and the cost much better than Valley Church.
This beach is a nice length for walking. Ask for drop off near the Sandals Resort. It is beautiful with nice soft sand, clean, and no odors. No shells though. You can rent a jet ski for $45 for 30 min. There were a lot of beach vendors but they were not at all pushy. There are plenty of chairs and umbrellas, some with a cabana like back which provides more shade. We got one of these with 2 chairs for $22. The chairs were comfortable (slatted plastic).
It was in the low 80’s by the afternoon and nice. If you walk down the beach to the right there are clean bathrooms attached to a hotel right on the beach
(by the sign that says “Rendezvous Antigua”). They might be intended just for hotel guests but no one questioned me.
Taxis are on hand at this beach when you want to leave, a good thing since our driver never returned at the agreed upon time.
Unfortunately this morning was cloudy. We got off the ship at 8:30 and none of the shops there were open for at least an hour later. Our table mates ended up taking an island tour that they enjoyed. The tours here cost less the more people sign up, and since it was not a nice morning lots signed up.
We had our hopes set on Orient Beach, so we returned to the ship and lounged in the Solarium for awhile, ate lunch, and got back off the ship.
We debated just going to the beach across from the ship (by water taxi), but in the end decided to try Orient. We were very happy we did. it was a lovely afternoon here, not too hot with a nice breeze. Lots of people watching available here.
The taxi was $18 for the two of us because we did not want to waste more time waiting for other people to show up for Orient. Returning back we had more people in the van so it was only $6 pp.
We settled on the beach near “Le String” and paid $12 for 2 chairs and an umbrella. You can also get two free drinks of any kind which would bring the total to $16 but we brought sodas with us. This is a good place to flop because they have the bar/kitchen so if you feel inclined you can eat and drink without searching. There is also a bathroom (not the cleanest but at least it was there). This area is right next to the nudist section so not a good place if you have kids.
We left about 3:45. The ride back took about 30 min, in part because the driver cruised the beach awhile looking for other fares. We have found that this practice is pretty common among the drivers here.
All the nitty gritty:
We left home (upstate NY) Feb 27 at 7:37 am. It was 22 degrees and snowing, with a lot of snow clinging to the trees and a lot more on the ground. Yahoo! Goodbye snow!
After two brief stops we arrived at Port Liberty at 10:30 am. We dropped off our luggage, DH parked, and into the terminal we skipped. We made it through to get our cards very quickly and had our pictures taken, then moved to the “priority” lounge (uncomfortable plastic chairs in a small fenced in area.) At 11:30 they called for first boarding and we got on the bus to the ship. Ahhh home again.
The cabins were not available until 1:30 so we ate in the Windjammer. Since we were among the first to arrive the food was hot mostly, but not the fish. It was presented well with lots of seafood on top of some of the selections. We were able to scoop up a nice table by the window. Other than my hockey puck fish, the food was pretty good. DH had some excellent top round beef from the carving station. Desert was fruit, brownies, and chocolate roulade.
After we ate, we went outside to get a picture of the Statue of Liberty and the 9/11 memorial. It was quite nice in the sun, not freezing like it could have been in Feb. After the pictures, we hung out in the library until our cabins were ready. DH took his first (of many) nap on board.
Once we got in our cabin the napping continued. We already know the ship, so we felt no urgency to wander around. Muster was at 3:30 outside. Temp was in the 30’s and it was sunny so it didn’t feel too cold. It was fast and painless.
After that, we booked our one excursion and then began unpacking. Our bags were there by 3 pm when we woke from our nap.
Dinner was at 5:30, earlier as Royal Caribbean has moved up times on many of their ships. As stated we lucked out with our table. We met our tablemates, a husband and wife from Jersey and her two brothers. Unfortunately we had a bit of unpleasantness before we even received our appetizers. We were approached by 2 maitred’s who told us that 3 kids got split up from their parents and would we all agree to be separated and moved to other tables. However we (and they) would not agree to be moved. We would not have a window table, nor the same waiter.
After we all said no, we all felt bad saying it, but we felt they were asking a lot for what was RCCI’s error. Surely there were other options, at least for that night. The table adjacent to us went empty the whole first seating every night. I didn’t mind them asking but they put the hard sell on us and were pushy.
The rest of the meal went great with good food and great service.
Tonight’s show was one seating only, at 7:15. There was a short skit with the RCCI singers and dancers and then comedian Rodney Johnson, who was pretty good (not fabulous). There was nothing much going on after the show so we walked around, got some cookies for later, and watched the Academy Awards on TV. Early to bed.
Mon - Sea day
After a great night’s sleep we ate breakfast in the Diamond lounge on the 3rd floor, offered to Diamond and above guests. We enjoyed some excellent french toast and then walked around the ship. At 11 we made the grave mistake of going to the Port and shopping talk. Yes, we knew better, but we wanted to kill some time. Well, we certainly killed it all right. 1 hr and 15 min of misery. They should call it the shopping hard sell talk with no mention of the port production. We kept waiting for it to improve and it never did.
Save yourself and DON’T GO.
At noon we ate lunch in the dining room, which was very good. They give you the option of getting out in 30 min in case you are in a hurry. We were not, so we took our time. I had pea soup, catfish, and lemon cake. DH had sirloin tips and white chocolate mousse - all yummy.
And after lunch we took another nap. It was foggy, cool, and windy all day.
Tonight was formal night. We had “happy hour” in the Diamond lounge before dinner, our custom. After dinner we went to the Captain’s reception in the promenade and DH had a couple freebie champagnes.
The show tonight was the production show “Wild, Cool, and Swinging.”
The singers and dancers are very strong but we did not particularly enjoy this show. I was done with sitting by then so I went back to the cabin to read and DH headed off to the casino, to win $37. Snacks and we hit the hay.
Tues - Sea day:
After an early hot tub session we ate breakfast in the Diamond dining room (I did not care for the “special” Spanish omelet). After that we went out to the pool deck and found some chairs. It was a bit cool, but sunny and NO SNOW. We stayed out all day soaking up the sun we had missed all winter. By noon it had warmed up nicely and it was time to change to bathing suits. DH did not get the sunscreen on fast enough and got a bad burn on his chest. Those coolish days can really fool you.
The music by the pool was canned music playing the same songs over and over all week. We missed the old days with a band playing nice island music. Occasionally there was a band but not the steel drums we love.
In the afternoon we got some chuckles from the “World’s Sexiest Man competition”. I also had my first Love Connection frozen drink in honor of DS Jeff who lives so far away in California.
At 4:30 was the ice skating show “Blades” which was ok, but a bit lame.
The seats we sat in were broken or something and slanted forward. Hard on the back and keister after awhile, so that didn’t help.
After the show was another good dinner with a wonderful strawberry napoleon for desert. Then off to the Crown and Anchor party right after dinner. This is not as nice as it used to be. Pathetic h’oevres and a sad 3 person band instead of the ship orchestra they used to have play. But the drinks are still free. The captain was present to answer questions but not one person had any, a first.
The evening show was Judy Kolba, who we have seen twice before, but still enjoyed. After that we skipped the 70’s show and headed off to our cabin.
Wed - Labadee:
Another early hot tub soak and breakfast in the Diamond room, then off the ship to Labadee. We docked about 8 am and by then it was sunny and warm, but not humid. Just a perfect day. We explored, walked the shore, and generally laid around and enjoyed ourselves.
At 4 pm we headed back to the ship, showered, and went up to the Viking Crown for drinks. We just missed sail away.
Another good dinner and then we walked around a bit, and DH headed to the casino while I read until the show.
The show was “Fast Forward”, which we have seen before. It was actually very good. Having such strong singers and dancers really makes a difference. After the show we headed off to our cabin.
Thurs - Samana:
Hot tub at 6:30, then breakfast and we were at the port at 8 am. The day began sunny with clouds and 72 degrees, but rose to the low 80’s, another beautiful day.
see Cayo info
After returning to Explorer we showered and headed to the Diamond lounge for happy hour during sail way. On the way down to dinner we heard the captain announce the whales portside, but we missed them.
Dinner was only so-so today. DH had an ok beef fillet and I had a too dry perch. After dinner we walked around, checked out the promenade “sales”,
and then went to the Palace for the show comedians Wilde and James, who we enjoyed. After the show there was nothing going on till 10:30 karaoke so DH took off for the casino. I’m afraid I couldn’t make it till karaoke so it was a miss.
Friday - St Thomas:
Up at 5:45 and to hot tub, still dark out. Breakfast at Windjammer (and the scrambled egg were HOT). Off to Emerald Beach. Unfortunately, after an hr or so, the skies opened up and boy did it rain. Back to the ship. No beach today.
After a Windjammer lunch we soaked in the hot tub then relocated to the Solarium to spend the afternoon reading and dozing. The new pads on the lounges in the Solarium are wonderfully comfy.
Another Viking Crown happy hour where we watched a beautiful (and long) double rainbow show.
Dinner was ok and included watching the sunset.
After we ate we went to music trivia where we discover we suck at it.
Then we went off to see another production show, Vibeology. This one was also good, despite not being new to us. We headed up to the deck party after that but it was slow starting and we left quite soon.
Sat - St Kitts:
When I got up at 6:30 for the hot tub we had nearly arrived. Later the captain said we passed a famous fort on the way in, but we missed it. It was a sunny, warm, and lovely day. The Sea Princess was docked next to us. (There had been no other ships in St Thomas, which is rather rare).
We returned from the beach at 12:30, ate lunch at the Windjammer, and went back out to check out the shops near the dock. There are the same old jewelry, T-shirts, trinkets you see at other islands, and we managed to spend a few dollars anyway.
Cocktails again and then dinner. Tonight was the second formal night. The crab cake starters were especially good.
After dinner was casino and reading time until the 9 pm show (the show times changed often). We ended up skipping the “Jazz Cabaret” show. We peeked in for a few minutes and could tell it was not for us.
Despite getting uncomfortable seats again, the skating show tonight was excellent. ”Spirits of the Seasons.”
We then watched a little of “Majority Rules” which seemed cute, and stayed for karaoke, which did not happen, at least when we were there. Not enough singers. So we took a walk outside and enjoyed the calm seas (ship either was stopped or going VERY slow) and warm night. The stars were bright and the sky just gorgeous.
Sun - Antigua:
Same hot tub, breakfast routine. Today an Azamara ship was docked next to us. Another low 80’s lovely day. It got cloudy about noontime so we left the beach and went back to the ship for a Windjammer lunch. After that we went back off the ship to shop at the port. Before too long it started raining
and since the shopping was nothing great, we returned to the ship and had a nice pre-dinner nap. Can you tell we like our naps?
Dinner was Shrimp Thai for me and black angus sirloin for DH, both good.
Then we walked the promenade and listened to bad music in the Maraharajas lounge till the show at 9 pm.
We loved the headliners tonight, John Joseph and Johnny B. The one guy made up a song on the spot about people in the audience he had been chatting with. Very clever.
After the show two of the lead RCCI singers did a 15 min show in the Promenade. Nice, but too short! Then there was a Latin party on deck but we did not last long and went to bed.
Monday - St.Maarten:
Up at 6 am for hot tubbing, but it was sprinkling by the time I left. Lots of clouds - boo.
After Orient Beach (love it, love it) we had dinner and tried to enjoy the sunset. Unfortunately someone at another table complained about the sun in their eyes (really? don’t sit in a window seat that others would die for then)
and the staff closed the curtain JUST as the sun went down. If looks could kill, they would be dead many times over.
After our meal we walked a bit, then casino and reading until the show, another outstanding production show, Invitation to Dance. Then we went to the Love and Marriage show, which is always funny. The cruise director did a good job.
Tuesday - Sea Day:
We slept “late”. I got up at 7:30 for the hot tub and it was already cooler outside which did not make me happy. After breakfast in Windjammer we headed outside on top deck. It was sunny, but breezy and rocky. The pools were covered with netting due to water sloshing out. We stayed out till about 3:30. (It was 71 degrees by noon). We had lunch in the Windjammer. I really enjoy Jade, but the deserts need some geritol. The same old roulade and fruit and cookies, come on. Back in the “old days” there was a nice variety of good sweets which changed daily. It can’t impress someone new to cruising.
In the afternoon I did the mile walk for “Make a Wish”, only a $10 donation. The walk was led by the cruise director and was fun since it was not overly hot out.
At tonight’s dinner, the staff sang and our assistant waiter cut up - funny guy. Or maybe just happy he was going home after our cruise.
After our routine of walk, read, casino, we went to the show. YUCK.
Las Pampas Gauchos and Florescence. The only real bomb show of the 12 nights. The first part was great for kids, the second half no good for anyone. They stomped around, flicked whips, and hollered. We have seen similar shows that were good, this one we should have skipped.
At 10:30 was Quest and again Chris did a good job keeping it fun.
After Quest we walked through the promenade and discovered a desert buffet we did not know they were having. It looked better than it tasted (my opinion) but the ice cream was yum.
Wednesday - At Sea:
Up at 7:45 and to hot tub, and breakfast in the dining room today. It was a bit cool out so we walked around and then went to the Captain’s Corner, which we enjoyed very much. He answered questions for about 45 min and some were very interesting. After that we walked around some more. There was another buffet on the Promenade, cold cuts and rolls, sushi, seafood, rice, a huge chocolate cake, and ice cream. We looked but decided to eat in the Windjammer to avoid the crowds at the buffet.
After lunch we went up to the Viking Crown to read for awhile. After that DH took off for the black jack tournament and I napped. Such a busy day wears you right out.
Tonight was formal night again, the third this cruise. We enjoyed our happy hour with a fellow from England and then enjoyed our shrimp and lobster, which was great. DH made his a surf and turf by adding on the prime rib. I ate his lobster and he had the shrimp.
Then casino and reading. The 8:30 show was “The Happenings” of Run Around Sue fame. A really excellent show that earned them a fast standing ovation.
Following the show we went to karaoke for awhile but it lacked excitement so we tried out the Chamber rock music. It was good, but I was tired by then. So back to the cabin for me and casino for DH. The ship was really rocking tonight (love it) and the barf bags were out on the stairways.
Thursday - At Sea:
Got up at 8:30 and skipped the hot tub. I thought it would be too cold out but it turned out to be nicer than yesterday.
During breakfast in the Windjammer the captain announced that there was a medical emergency and we were speeding ahead to NJ at top speed and had been all night (thus the rocking). We would dock about 9:30pm but have to stay on until the morning for customs. And no shops or casino would be open.
At 10 am we went to see the movie “Salt” with Angelina Jolie. Part of this was filmed near us in Albany and it was strange to see roads we had driven on screen. During the last 5 min of the movie Chris came on the speaker and said that plans had changed again. Now there would be a helicopter evacuation by the Coast Guard at 12:30 and we would proceed to Bayonne with arrival time as usual.
So after the movie we went up to deck 12, and then down to pool deck and finally deck 4 to watch the rescue. We could see the copter and the sea plane that accompanied it in case the copter went down, but could not see the actual rescue. We heard it was a woman with diabetes and internal bleeding.
The upper decks were all roped off during the rescue due to the high winds. The ship stopped for the rescue and then continued on at slow speed.
Lunch today was brunch in the dining room, breakfast foods such as eggs and bacon and donuts, and carving stations with ham and Beef Wellington, grilled mushrooms, salads, and a desert table. Pretty good.
After lunch we sat out on the pool deck for about an hour, soaking up the last of the sun. At 2:30 we went to the Karaoke finale and then a last onboard nap.
After a last yummy dinner and the passing out of tips we returned to the cabin to pack.
The last show was a preview of the “Cruise in review”, Chris’ top ten stupid passenger questions (only funny if it’s your first cruise), and a bad comedian. Later there was a parade down the promenade. We enjoyed one more night of wonderful sleep with the ship gently rocking.
Friday - Bayonne:
We had a leisurely breakfast in the dining room and waited in the Palace for about 15 min before our color was called, pretty much on the listed schedule time. At 8:45 we were off and driving out by 9:15 for the sad ride home.
Questions gladly answered