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Explorer of the Seas 
October 6, 2006 
Eastern Caribbean

by Tammy M. Newcomer

This was our second cruise with Royal Caribbean, the last one in October 2005 on the Grandeur of the Seas out of Baltimore, MD. This time we brought our best friends, first time cruisers. Although Baltimore is closer, I really wanted to go to some new ports and try out a bigger ship so we sailed out of Cape Liberty, NJ (might as well be NY) on the Explorer of the Seas. 

Getting there was easy and only took us about 3 hours leaving south central PA. Check in was okay, however we did complete online pre-boarding and there was no separate line and was not as smooth as in Baltimore. The wait was well worth it though, the ship was huge and very nice inside when we found our stateroom ready a couple hours before the 1pm they advertise (just take your Seapass and check to see if your room is ready).

Although we went in October, there were a lot of kids on the ship. Some well behaved and supervised, others... well they were not. One suggestion for the ship is that young kids should not be allowed in the dining room at a table without parents seated at the table with them. A few nights, we had a table of kids directly behind us, their parents a couple tables away. Kids will be kids. If we had children with us, perhaps it would not have been as annoying. Pool area was nice, but being a bigger ship I expected it to feel less crowded. On the smaller Grandeur, I did not feel as though we were constantly waiting in line, packed into areas, hoping for a spot in the hot tub or on a pool chair, etc. The ship had a very nice gym (we actually used it a couple times), nice promenade shopping area, the 19th hole bar is really nice with a great view, and we enjoyed the mini-golf.

Our waiters were very nice, and our stateroom attendant Cornelius “fine all de time” or AKA “the Iceman” was great. Cruise director was Allan, he seemed to be everywhere and did a nice job. The Vibeology was an awesome show and Ejay Day from the first season of American Idol was one of the singers. We got to meet him, was a lot of fun. All the shows were good and the comedian was Eric Lyden and he is not to be missed (adult show is much better than the welcome show he does). Very unique compared to my last RCCI cruise, the parades were really neat on the Explorer of the seas. The entertainment on board was very nice, shows of some sort each night.

For other meals and snacks, we frequented the Windjammer café and the Promenade café. Windjammer is nice, but like the other ship we were on, we couldn’t help but wonder--will they ever realize how hard it is to find an available table sometimes? It makes for an adventure and our friends were very good at finding tables which helped us this time around. The promenade café serves pizza, sandwiches, cookies (Ranger Coconut were my friend’s favorite), desserts, and fruit.

Port of St. Thomas was okay, but do not do the Blackbeard Hill tour unless you know up front that you will not actually be visiting Blackbeard’s castle. It was a hoax and a name for a fort that the U.S. government came up with to boost tourism (what we were told by tour guide). They do show some old houses, but not worth the dough. Overall, St. Thomas was not as nice as I expected.

Port of St. Maarten was very nice for beach time; we went to Great Bay to swim after checking out the shops. Very sad to see stray dogs walking the beach, my husband even fed one a hamburger. They are very skinny and can hardly walk. I asked Miguel the beach chair and umbrella renter about the dogs, he said they do have an animal shelter and people come to feed the dogs, but these dogs were extremely skinny. Being an animal lover, this was really hard for me to totally enjoy myself, although I did have a nice time swimming in the beautiful water.

Port of San Juan, Puerto Rico very pretty. We did a tour of the Bacardi plant and also of Old San Juan. Hard to take pictures outside the bus through the glass. The tour guide Frank was very nice and was telling us information, but was hard to hear over people talking in the bus. Bacardi was interesting, but we found it was cheaper to buy the rum in the store at the pier than at the plant. The fort San Cristobal was really nice in the short time that we were there to take pictures of that and the city. Over 400 years it has been there and I enjoy history.

Labadee, RCCL private destination that is on Haiti was very nice. My hubby and friends did a waverunner tour and had an awesome time. The people of Haiti are very friendly people and want to sell you anything they can. It makes you really appreciate how fortunate we are, however on the tour my husband was told that although they don’t have running water, TV, etc they are quite content with what they have and really appreciate that RCCL came in and has employed many people. The water was great for swimming in Labadee, we swam at barefoot beach. Husband and one of our friends found snorkeling fun to do at Labadee.

On the return trip, the last day the ship was really rocking with a storm brewing and high winds. Seas were high, 18-27 feet high, although some had heard 40-50 feet at some points. My friends and I did not get ill; however, I was getting a little concerned until I spoke to a crew member who assured me that the Explorer could handle it. On the Grandeur we endured Hurricane Wilma on our tails leaving Cozumel, it was a rough night but not as bad as I experienced on this return trip. It makes for a good story to tell and we did get a great night’s sleep (rocked to sleep!).

Back at Cape Liberty, AKA Bayonne, NJ, we ended the rough seas and began a rough journey home. The port and/or RCCL need to develop new process at Cape Liberty. We arrived about an hour late due to the storm, which is understandable. It was another two hours until our color was called, then we were herded out of the ship to fend for ourselves (I liken it to “survival for the fittest”) to catch a bus back to the building where the luggage waits. We literally had to run for a bus after missing 2-3 even though we were towards the front of the so called line. Then once we arrived to the building, we did find the luggage okay, but had to push through to get outside the loading/porter area. We decided to walk our luggage to the car as we parked so close. So we started our morning at the Palace theatre on level 3 at 7am, then we got to our car at 11:20AM, then due to traffic delays due to high winds on NJ turnpike, we arrived home at 4pm.

Overall, we had a great trip due to great friends to travel with, good service from the staff, great shows, etc, but bigger is not always better. The nice thing about Grandeur is that it is a smaller, more intimate (actually less crowded feeling) ship and since Baltimore is only 45 minutes away and went much smoother (we all expect the wait for your “color tag” delays) boarding and leaving the ship. Explorer did handle the big storm very well, and my hubby and I thought that we’d rather be on Explorer than Grandeur for that! Another great cruise, with many memories to treasure!

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