Best Cruise for Us Yet!
|Reviewer Rates This Cruise
Royal Caribbean Explorer of the Seas: Hands down, our best cruise so far! It was our fourth, but first on Royal Caribbean. Our family includes my husband and me, plus two boys, ages 7 and 11.
August 25 – August 30, 2012
Bayonne, NJ to Bermuda
Bayonne, NJ Port
Prior, we have gone through the Manhattan and Brooklyn ports. Bayonne ranks last on the list for us as far as organization and speed. We got to the port about noon as onboarding started at 1PM. We waited in a long, slow-moving line of cars for about 45 minutes before we got to the point where we could drop our luggage off. After that, another line to actually park, but it wasn’t too long and finding a space was easy. Parking for 6 days was a reasonable $95. A free shuttle van to the terminal was actually available where we parked, but it was only about 300 yards away and walking, if we had to, would not have been an issue.
We were on line in the terminal for about an hour before we finally checked in. The one hour wait was a big annoyance.
Bottom line: It was worth paying the $95 to park there, which was a lot cheaper than what we would have paid for car service. I’d also rather pay the $95 than having to inconvenience a friend or family member with doing us the favor of ride (there and for pickup).
The ship is gorgeous and very clean. It could stand some exterior paint touch ups, but is generally well maintained. It is enormous with about 3,100 passengers and about 1,180 crew members. If you want to see what the crew on the bridge is up to, there’s something called the “Peekaboo Bridge” (Deck 11, front of ship) where you can look down into the bridge – a cool feature. The ship’s floor plan was very easy to navigate and elevators were generally fast and plentiful. The ship, in a word, is spectacular.
Oceanview, Deck 3, Room 3540, Port Side, Front of Ship. It was the last room at the end of a short hallway; perfect place for us. (With children, we don’t get cabins with balconies – I’d worry too much.)
The very clean cabin was big enough to move about, even with the 4 of us. We had a queen bed, small love seat, coffee table, built in desk with a chair. Large closet, though not large enough for 4 suitcases (just 2 fit in there) – but there were plenty of shelves and drawers. The bathroom was unremarkable and, of course, small – but no smaller than any other ship we’ve been on. It was also very clean.
The queen bed, which is two twins pushed together, was super comfortable, as was the bedding. There were two drop-down bunk beds over the queen bed. However, my kids were afraid to sleep on them. So, one kid slept in the queen with us and the other opted to sleep on the love seat. Just as well – the bunks were locked back into the ceiling, which gave us more room to walk around the bed.
Room Rant: The room included a small refrigerator that was stocked with snacks and drinks. If you eat/drink this stuff, there’s a charge. I didn’t want my kids taking any of it and also needed the fridge for different meds my husband and son were taking. I asked the cabin steward several times to remove the snacks and drinks from our room. Instead of doing so, he said he asked the person in charge of the mini fridges to do it. But it never happened. When questioned again, he said “We can’t take the stuff out because we have no where to store it.” (Really?!) This annoyed me as it seemed an obvious lie. We ended up putting the stuff in a drawer.
Room Fun: The steward made towel animals for the tuck-down service (e.g. dog, monkey,elephant).
We did not eat any meals in the dining room. A few reasons: (1) We didn’t want to get dressed up (required for dinner only) while on vacation – just a personal preference; (2) my kids are well mannered in formal eateries, but I know they’d rather be somewhere more relaxed; (3) though we had “My Time Dining,” they still suggested reservations. I didn’t know what we’d be doing atany given time, so we didn’t bother locking ourselves in to a scheduled meal.
Most of our meals were at the buffet (Windjammer). In general, food that should be served hot was tepid. Not a ton of variety (though there certainly were choices) for lunch/dinner or anything outstanding. It was okay, but if you’re looking for a culinary experience to write home about, this isn’t it.
In general, the buffet was clean, we could always find a table and the food was okay.
- For breakfast: Eggs scrambled, soft boiled and pre-fab ham-and-cheese omelets, along with bagels, English muffins, toast, fruits, bacon, sausage (including turkey sausage), French toast, pancakes, waffles, various fruits, yogurts, pastries, cold cereals, and juices. If you wanted an omelet other than ham and cheese, there was an omelet stand, but a line for it.
- For lunch: a choice of cold cuts, cheeses, hot dogs/cheeseburgers, highly mediocre salad bar, bland pizza and pastas, fried foods (e.g. fish, chicken), Panini sandwiches and fruits.
- For dinner: basically the same as lunch, but with some additional options like sushi (if you’ve ever had supermarket sushi, this is its twin).
- Desserts were generally the same at lunch and dinner – brownies, cookies, jellos, cheesecake, puddings, etc. At least two sugar-free options
- Coffee & Tea at the buffet: Coffee was Seattle’s Best brand (very good) and wide variety of Lipton teas (e.g., Earl Grey, Chamomile, green, etc.)
Other Food Options
- Johnny Rockets – For a $5 cover charge, sit and get waited on – and eat whatever you want, as much as you want. They offer hot, delicious food from the regular Johnny Rockets' menu. There was an additional charge if you wanted a shake. If you go, you may catch the wait staff do a small floor show in the aisle. The wait staff in Johnny Rockets was outstanding. Open 11:30 AM – 11:30 PM.
- Café on the Promenade – Open 24 hours – things like pizza, desserts and mini pre-fab sandwiches available at no extra charge. The food here was delicious, though not a lot of variety. Seattle’s Best coffee offered at no extra charge, along with a variety of Lipton teas. For a charge, Starbuck’s brand coffees are available.
- Ice Cream – Free on the pool deck; soft serve Ice Cream; Ben & Jerry’s stand on the Promenade deck (for a charge)
Soda Sticker/Cup Deal
For about $30 (and about $23 for kids) you could get a Coke sticker on your cruise card (Sea Pass), plus a special Coke cup. Both entitle you to all the soda or other soft drinks that you could handle. On every cruise, we’ve gotten this because it’s such a deal.
HOWEVER, this cruise had something really cool – the Coke cup you got had a sensor in it. That sensor talked to soda machines that were in the buffet dining room and the Promenade deck. Those machines worked only when you used the cup. The machines offered over 100 different types of soft drinks. For example, Diet Coke with raspberry, cherry, vanilla, orange, etc. and so on. The most people ever on line to use the machine was two, so you never really had to wait. You could also get refills at any of the bars, but I loved the self-service offered by the machines. Only down side: you could only fill your cup every 15 minutes; before 15 minutes, the machine would not work for your cup. Not really an issue, unless you’re really thirsty and drank down a drink quickly.
Adventure Ocean Program (Kid Club)
This was awesome! On other cruises, the kid clubs would run something like this: Open 9 AM – 12 PM; Close 12 PM – 2 PM; Open 2 PM – 5 PM; Close 5:PM to 7 PM; Open 7PM – 10 PM; Charge from 10PM –2AM.
BUT – on this cruise, there were NO interruptive breaks. Your child could have lunch and/or dinner at the club if he/she so desired. For lunch and dinner, there’d be a charge (about $7), but it was nominal. After 10 PM, the charge was $6 per hour per child. I loved that we didn’t have to interrupt what we were doing to go pick up a child from the kid club. Our kids could stay there as long as they liked or not – we left it up to them. Our younger son opted to spend more time with us (he still thinks we’re cool). Our 11 year-old opted to spend more time in the club with the friends he made on board.
The kid club staff was very friendly and my kids loved them. They were kept very busy and entertained. They even met the captain and had their pictures taken with him – this is HUGE to a kid (and some adults, too). For our 7-year-old’s group, they did a pirate night where the kids colored pirate bandanas, had their faces made up like pirates and then had a kid pirate parade down the Promenade. My kids also colored in pillowcases and won different medals (I think all the kids did) from different games.
Downside of the kid club – no pagers for parents. If they need to get in touch with a parent, they call the parents’ cabin. Most people aren’t in their cabins – they’re out doing activities or are ashore. They really need pagers.
Overall, my kids LOVED the club and we felt good about the security and knowing that our kids were having a blast.
Quite abundant! The sports deck boasts an inline skating track. The ship will lend you skates, but we had our own with us. It’s not a big track, but it’s very smooth and we truly enjoyed it. If the track is wet, it gets closed, so take advantage of it whenever you can if you want to get some Rollerblading in. The mini-golf was great, too. There was a court that people used for basketball, soccer, dodge ball and I’m sure other games that the staff organized. There is also a humongous rock-climbing wall – we didn’t try it, so I can’t give an opinion, but people seemed to love it. Plus, this deck boasts ping pong.
I’m not sure if this is a “sport” but there is a nice-sized arcade close to the sports deck. We didn’t use it, but it was always hopping and open 24 hours.
Ice Rink – this was, pardon the pun, really cool! My husband brought his skates (he’s a hockey player), so he loved this and skated with one of our sons. Ice time is limited and not available every day. It’s a small rink – about ¼ size of a regulation rink. Skate rental is free. Not a lot of people seemed to go to the rink – which is good, as it doesn’t get crowded.
One complaint about the rink: there were some highly skilled kid skaters in each session – they would speed skate and be a bit reckless. The person in charge of the rink would tell them to slow down, ad nauseam, but the kids still did it. This was dangerous as the few other skaters were generally beginners who were unsteady and fell often. The reckless behavior of the “speeders” would have been dangerous in a regulation-sized rink; it was even more so in a rink this size. Royal Caribbean’s rink staff should have had more control and either given “time outs” or even ejected those who didn’t follow the rules.
We’re not into musicals, so we didn’t see any of the shows, including stage and ice (rink) shows. We did see one mediocre comedian and really enjoyed a game show that was sort of like the old “Newlywed Game” – that was surprisingly hilarious. Live music in different genres were scheduled through the day and night in different areas of the ship. All music acts that we saw were very good. We sat in on a karaoke night – it was so-so. We also attended a one-hour
lecture on the Bermuda Triangle – we actually like that sort of thing. However, the lecturer was unpolished, as was his presentation, and he managed to utter an insult to women and another to Asian Indians.
There were a lot of other entertainment options (e.g. Bingo, fitness classes – many free, and other sporadic games/competitions). We didn’t attend those, but if we were looking for something to do, there were always several options. We didn’t use the gym, but visited it. It’senormous and has tons of machines, plus a very large hot tub. There is a spa, which we did not use, but they had deals going on all the time.
The cruise director, Richard Spacey, was high-energy! We saw him on stage for the couple of shows we saw – he was fast on his feet and very witty. He set a tremendous tone of levity.
Pools & Hot Tubs
There are 3 kids pools in the back of the ship, including one with a 2-story pool slide. Mid ship were two pools and a few hot tubs. During the day, it was always full of people and always very loud, either live, piped in or DJ music. The front of the ship included a pool and two hot tubs for adults only. It was quiet and serene in this area. If you like to sit poolside and want a party atmosphere, go mid ship. Get a chair no later than 10 AM or you won’t get one. If you want peace and no kids, go to the front of the ship – and get a chair by 10 AM or risk not getting one at all. All pools/hot tubs and surrounding areas were very clean – and beautiful.
The promenade is breathtaking! If you’ve ever been to the shops in Caesars or Paris in Las Vegas, this is a mini version of it. It’s like a faux European street scene; on one level, shops with 2 stories of windows (interior cabins) that look down into the shops. This is where you’ll find the 24 hour café (snacks/coffee/tea). The stores are one each for jewelry, liquor, souvenirs and a boutique. Nothing outstanding – I was surprised by the lack of variety of duty-free stuff being offered. It’s just as well – I was tempted to buy anything. The Promenade also includes a pub and ice cream stand (for a price). Overall, to look at, the Promenade is aesthetically outstanding and offers fun people watching. For actual shopping, a big yawn.
We didn’t attend the auctions after getting a look at the art. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and to this beholder, the art was subpar.
A two story casino – biggest I’ve ever seen on a ship. Impressive and there were tons of slots and gaming tables for every casino game I know. Downside: Very smoky.
I can’t imagine anyone is on a cruise to watch TV. We’d put it on at night for background noise. It was one of those old, fat TVs (not a flat screen) and it got a few news channels and some movie channels, but nothing outstanding.
We were in Bermuda for a week last year (flew) and saw most of the island. Good thing, as you only get a day and a ½ on this cruise to actually see Bermuda. A few pieces of advice: unless you really want to see something, don’t bother with the cruise’s excursions.
If you want to snorkel: The cruise will charge you $54 per person to go to Scuba Park, which is a short walk (about 3 city blocks) from the ship. You get snorkel equipment to “rent” and a beach chair/umbrella). Don’t bother. Instead, buy a snorkel and mask (you don’t need fins – but I strongly recommend water shoes, especially for kids, as the bottom is all rocks) before you go – either on the ship or bring a cheaper set from home, walk to it yourself, pay the $5 entry fee (KIDS ARE FREE!!!) and go snorkeling in Snorkel Park. I was really surprised by this place – fish are everywhere – the water is very, very calm and super warm. There is a huge reef that you can float over and you will see thousands of fish, including huge, colorful ones and tons of coral. Plus, a sunken (small) ship. OUTSTANDING!!! All for $5 per adult. If you need a life vest for you or a child, you can rent one here for $5. I highly recommend Snorkel Park – super value, spectacular snorkeling. Unless you really want a beach chair and umbrella, don’t pay via cruise excursion.
If you like history: Go to the fort in the Royal Dockyard. It is enormous – and tons to see, inside and out. Entry fee is $10 for adults; kids are FREE. About 2 city blocks from the ship.
You can also swim with dolphins – which can be booked through the cruise or take a chance that there are openings and do a walk-in. However, it is incredibly expensive (e.g., $60 for 5 minutes or $220 for 20 minutes. For the 20 minutes, the cruise says it’s an hour – that’s not exactly true. That hour includes suiting up, instructions and only 20 minutes with the dolphins. As tempting as it was, it just felt like a huge rip off and I didn’t do it on principle. Of course, I live close to an area where I could do this for a lot less money, so that played into it, too.
If you decide to go to Hamilton or St. George’s, take the ferry. They are 20 minutes and 60 minutes respectively. Buy tokens beforehand and always get to the ferry at least 10 minutes prior to departure so as to help ensure you get a seat. Do not take cabs (a fortune – Hamilton with tip was $50) or buses (too long – lots of stops and air conditioning is spotty, at best, as can be seats). The ferry also offers nice views of Bermuda from the water.
Hamilton is mostly just shopping. St. George’s is a lot of shopping, some historical “stuff.” Since you only have 1 ½ days on this cruise, I strongly recommend staying in the Dock Yard – it offers lots of shops, beach, snorkeling and history. Getting on and off the ship was quick and easy – another incentive to stay in the Dock Yard – you can eat on the ship and not spend extra money on food when off the ship. As mentioned, we had already been to Bermuda and all the other sights, so we were totally down with not wasting any time (and money) on transportation.
Golf– My husband loves to play golf – there were no golf excursions scheduled through the ship. He asked the ship people if they could call ahead for a tee time. They said they would - and would call him to confirm. By the next day, he didn’t hear back. So…in the Dock Yard, he found a kiosk for day trippers – they offered golf. They got him a tee time. For $150, he got to play 18 holes at Belmont Hills, plus this included a cart and club rentals. The cab ride was about 25 minutes and cost $40 (with tip) one way. We’re annoyed with Royal Caribbean’s lack of service over this. If they didn’t want to make the call, they shouldn’t have said they would. They never did call us, as they said they would, to let us know if they’d be able to oblige. As far as Belmont Hills, it was a beautiful course with breathtaking views.
We opted to take off our own luggage. We were up at 7 AM and had breakfast, then went to our designated area, with our luggage, at 8. We waited on a line for an hour before we were finally able to get off the ship and go through Customs. It was annoying. On the plus side, once through Customs, we simply walked to our car and drove out without an issue.
I highly recommend this cruise, especially if you’re traveling with kids. We were never bored and were kept entertained and busy – and could find quiet places if we wanted some down time. The ship is gorgeous and the staff, for the most part, are highly friendly and welcoming. I would cruise Royal Caribbean again – so far, the best we’ve sailed.
My other cruise reviews can be found on this site, too:
- Carnival (horrific experience) to New England and Canada, August, 2008
- Princess (fantastic!) to New England and Canada, 2009 (also did this one in 2010), both in August of those years.