Sunday, May 10, 2009

Cruise Review - Explorer of the Seas - Oct. 2007

Explorer of the Seas - Bermuda

I sailed on the Explorer of the Seas to Bermuda Oct. 21, 2007.This was a five night cruise to Bermuda. I must preface my review by saying I previously sailed the Freedom of the Seas and loved that ship. I found myself making comparisons between the ships.

EMBARKATION: We drove to the Cape Liberty port and embarkation was a breeze. We arrived at the pier building at 12:30 PM, dropped our luggage and continued past the terminal to the long term parking. Parking was $80 for a 5 night cruise, payable in cash or by Visa or Master Card.

We walked back to the terminal after parking and showed our i.d. and Seapass printout for access to the inside and given a bus number. We were in cabin 1343 and proceeded to the line for deck 10. We were immediately greeted by an agent, the check in process took five minutes. We were directed around the corner to have our picture taken for our Seapass card, took an embarkation photo and by the time we were finished, our bus number was called. We got on the bus and were on the ship within 15 minutes.

Since it was a little before 1:00 PM and too early to get to our room, we went to the Windjammer Cafe for lunch. It was fairly crowded and we shared a table with two others. Food was okay - nothing spectacular, but plenty of choices. I felt we had more choices on FOS than Explorer and the quality of food was a bit better as well. We then proceeded to our dining room to try and have our dinner changed from late to early seating. We were quickly accommodated and then proceeded to our room.

CABIN: We had inside cabin 1343 on deck. 10. It was a very short walk from the aft elevators and in a great location. The room was small, but there was plenty of storage space. The beds were pushed together, which left absolutely no room to get out of the side of the bed to use the bathroom. We found our cabin attendant (Amanda, who provided outstanding service throughout the cruise) and she moved the beds and also cleaned out the mini-bar in the fridge for us. With the beds moved apart, there was plenty of room to walk in between the beds. The carpets and couch were a bit worn in our cabin, but not filthy. The quilt on the bed when the beds were doubled had a few holes in it. With the beds split, the bedding was fine. no holes or worn spots. I was concerned about noise in our room because we were directly under the Windjammer. There was nothing to fear. The only noise we heard was on the second night at about 11 PM and sounded like something being dragged across the room. Other than that, it was very quiet.

We did notice during the cruise bags of cut up carpet in the hallways during the day. It seemed that some of the cabins were having their carpets replaced, but not ours.

FOOD & DINING SERVICE: We were assigned to Columbus Dining Room, table 524 early seating. We were not happy with the service by our head waiter. We and our table mates arrived promptly, yet our waiter did not take any orders until all three of his tables were seated. Then he was able to serve all three tables at the same time rather than one at a time, making service easier for him. That was a big issue, since neither of the other tables was ever on time. The first night, we sat without him taking our order for nearly a half hour. The second night, he had begun taking our order after we sat for 15 minutes when the next table came in . He stopped taking our order to put the napkins on the laps of the late guests.

Those at our table were very unhappy with this situation. We weren't served an appetizer until 40 minutes after we were seated. On the third night, the only show was at 7:45 and we knew we would not make the show if we ate in the dining room. We decided to eat in the Windjammer, but did go to the dining room to tell our waiter so he would not hold up the dinner for our table mates. The waiter was no where to be found, but we approached the Maitre D and told him of our situation.

He was very apologetic and asked us to please eat in the dining room and he would ensure we would be out in time to get to the show. We opted to not take a chance and the head waiter assured us he would take care of the problem. He did take care of it - our table mates told us later on that dinner was served promptly and they were out of the dining room in a little over an hour after sitting down. We did go back to the dining room after that and found that the service had improved and the waiter was no longer waiting for all three tables to start taking orders and serving.

The food was good, but not the best I've ever had. Steaks and filet mignon were outstanding and cooked to order. Some of the fish dishes were excellent but people did complain that the same fish (cod) served the first night was terrific, but terrible on the third night. I love the cold fruit soups and found all of them good. The desserts were not as tasty as the desserts on FOS. Lobster was on Wednesday night and very good. We had lunch in the dining room on Monday and I did enjoy that - I felt the food quality was much better than the Windjammer and should have eaten there more.

Food at the Windjammer was disappointing. The selection was not as big as was available on FOS, the food was over salted and some of it was bland. On many other ships, tablecloths are on the tables in the Cafe at dinner - not on this ship. There were also not as many sugar free desserts.

We did have breakfast in the dining room one morning and it was delightful. Food was cooked perfectly. We ate a few times in Cafe Promenade. Pizza was available, as were sandwiches and some desserts. I prefer the larger ships that have both Sorrento' s Pizza and Cafe Promenade. There were more food varieties and more tables. On sea days, it was hard to get a table.
We ate at Portofino's the last night Service was excellent, food was good.

THE SHIP: The ship is a smaller version of FOS. The ship was in good condition for a seven year old ship. Not a lot of signs of wear and tear. Missing are the H20 water park and the Flow Rider. The Solarium pool was very enjoyable. The other pools were a bit more crowded, but to my astonishment, it was never difficult to find a chair on sea days near either pool. Whether it was because it was cool out and not as many people used the pools, or if this cruise didn't have chair hogs, I don't know, but it was delightful to be able to find a seat after lunch.

The Promenade is lovely, but the shops are really a waste. I haven't been on a ship in which I saw so few people shopping. The high end jewelry store was pretty empty most of the time. The Logo shop had a lot of items, but very few kids sizes. The Liquor Shop was the busiest shop. Since many of the passengers had driven to the ship and didn't have the issue of getting liquor home on an airplane, I believe that drove a lot of business to that store.
There are a lot of places you can go to on the ship and not feel crowded. The 19th Hole on deck 14 was a great spot to watch the Rock Climbing and Basketball activities. There is also an inline skate park (that I didn't notice anyone using) and it also overlooks the mini-golf. The golf course could use new turf. The Crow's Nest, Dizzy's, Viking Crown Lounge, Cloud Nine and Sevens Hearts are on this deck.

We didn't use the gym or the spa but did walk the track every day. Get there early, that was the most popular spot on the ship by 9 AM.

ACTIVITIES & SHOWS: I didn't feel there were enough activities on this ship, particularly on sea days. There was the usual Bingo, Aerobics Classes, Trivia. However, many times the venues were so small and because there was not more activities going on, it was SRO. At a towel folding class in the Schooner bar, there were so many people you couldn't see what the staff was doing.
We missed the show the first night with comedian Rick Starr and magician Peter Gross but heard from people we asked the show was good and did get to see it on the t.v. in our room later on. We only saw one Production Show (Wild, Cool & Swingin')with the Singers and Dancers and it was awful. We left after 20 minutes. We weren't the only ones - everyone we spoke to that night and the next day did not like the show either. We heard better singers at Family Karaoke (seriously - I was sorry that was only one hour).

The third night, the featured singer was John Christie, who was very good. Reminded me very much of Peter Allen. We skipped the productions show the next night and the ship was rocking too hard for us to stay for the show the last night.

Do not miss the Ice Show or Quest. Our cruise director was Dave Chapman. He was pretty good but it was his last cruise on the ship. He is very quick and has a great sense of humor.

BERMUDA: If you love the beach, Bermuda is the place for you. Elbow or Horseshoe Beaches are must see's. If you are not a beach lover (like me), there is not a lot to do. This was my second time to Bermuda and I had already done the Botanical Gardens and Caves. While I usually like doing a catamaran excursion, I didn't bother this time because I was concerned it might be too cool to swim.This time, we opted to buy a one day bus pass on the ship.

The ship docked in King's Wharf. On a previous cruise, we docked in St. George and Hamilton. I prefer King's Wharf. There is not much to do in Hamilton besides expensive shopping. Souvenir shopping on the Wharf was much better. We got off the ship and walked to the high speed ferry to Hamilton. After walking around Hamilton a bit, we walked to the bus terminal and went to St. George to the Perfume Factory. While we were told we could get a tour, there were only two women in the shop and both were busy with customers, so a tour was out of the question (but I did get my Frangiapani perfume).

We took the bus back to Hamilton and decided instead of taking the ferry back to the Wharf, we would take the bus. What didn't appear to be too far on the map ended up being over an hour's ride by bus. Take my advice - use the ferry to go back.

On day two we decided to explore the Wharf and to my delight, I found a Snorkel Park that was not there when I last visited 5 year ago. It is located next to the Dolphin Swim. It is free to get in, you can rent a chair and umbrella for $10 each (or $25.00 for two chairs and two umbrellas) and enjoy a small beach right next to the pier. There is a restaurant and rentals of snorkel equipment and other items. It was wonderful and if I were to ever go back, I'd just spend my time there.

Disembarkation: We were out of our room and sitting at Bolero's by 7:20 AM. Disembarkation did not begin until 9:20. Apparently, it took longer than usual for the ship to be cleared. We had lavender tags and were the third group called off. After a slight back up on the stairs, we were off the ship within 15 minutes and lined up to get a bus. We waited for the second bus and were quickly inside the terminal. For the first time ever, I found my bags immediately - the bags were right where they were supposed to be, and even next to each other. It was a quick trip through Customs and we were in our car five minutes later.

This is a good family cruise - there were quite a few kids on the ship who seemed to be thoroughly enjoying themselves. Most of the passengers were from the tri-state area and I didn't see any boorish or poor behavior, with the exception of some people who felt the need to jump on the elevators in front of people waiting in wheelchairs. It was a real pleasure to be able to drive to a cruise instead of the stress of flying.

I did like the Freedom of the Seas a bit better than this ship, but for an older ship, she is in good shape and provides a nice experience. The quality of the production shows was not good, but the shows featuring other performers were good. For a five day getaway, this is a good choice.

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