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Gary Ingram

Age: 59


Number of Cruises: 5

Cruise Line: Royal Caribbean

Ship: Explorer of the Seas

Sailing Date: January 10th, 2004

Itinerary: Eastern Caribbean

This is my third cruise review and I have very mixed feelings about this cruise. There were things I liked and enjoyed and maybe too many negatives that cause my mixed feelings. I have read many positive comments about the Voyager Class ships. When you read my review, remember it is my opinion but I met many on board with similar opinions.

PREPARATION: As always I study the ship’s deck plans months before the cruise. I also read all the current cruise reviews about the ship. We originally reserved a balcony room on Deck 6. I learned Deck 6 had steel railings not glass like the decks above. I quickly changed my cabin to Deck 7. When I board the ship I have a comfortable feeling that it is like an old friend and I have a pretty good idea where things are.

I am a fan of Tom & Mary Milano’s reviews. He is the one that promotes the use of Two Dollar bills as initial tips on board. I read of people using phone cards as extra incentives to cruise staff. The phone cards sounded great to me because the ship’s crew all head to the phones in port to call home. We purchased a pack of a dozen 60-minute cards at Sam’s Club for about twenty dollars. We gave two to our room steward upon boarding and to the waiter and assistant the first night. Our waiter was not quite sure what to do with them but the others were very thankful. I gave a couple more to our room steward with her tip on the final night. She made a point to thank us the last morning and told us to stay in the cabin as long as we wanted.

PORT OF MIAMI: My next cruise will be out of a different port. My last cruise was on the Carnival Triumph and was a traffic nightmare. I thought this trip would be better because we could turn off for the first terminals. However, there is construction going on and we had to detour way out of the way. The yellow cab drivers should be keel hauled.
The RCL parking structure has no directional signs to speak of, I found myself at the exit kiosks before I found a place to park and had to turn around and drive the wrong direction to get back in. The parking is $12 per day and I thought Carnival’s $10 was high.

EMBARKATION: We checked our bags at the curb and proceeded to check in. I had filled out forms on the website and received E-docs for boarding. We did have to stop and fill out a card for Bahamas immigration. Embarkation took only a few minutes and we were able to board the ship. Our room was ready and we dropped off our carry on and proceeded to Island Grill for lunch before a ship tour. We preferred the Island Grill to the Windjammer because it was in the aft with wrap-around windows for a magnificent view.

The ship as everyone knows was the largest cruise liner afloat till the QM II just sailed. We didn’t realize how big it really was till we seen it in Nassau along with seven other ships in near proximity. The ship is simply beautiful inside and out. We were impressed with the marble floor tile colors and patterns. The ship shaped directories on each floor are very novel. We liked the Promenade and provided a pleasant shelter if the weather outside was not the best. The café allowed us to sit and drink coffee and watch people stroll by and shop. The solarium is a major improvement to cruising. An adult only area with swimming pool, two large hot tubs, two showers and padded lounge chairs. It was a very relaxing area.

The Casino is poorly designed. There is no direct path by or through it. I am sure it was planned that way, but it is difficult to navigate and congested. The casino should have been given more room by maybe eliminating a bar or two. Did I say there are too many bars? I like table games, my wife likes slots. Usually she can play a couple of hours on a couple rolls of quarters. We found $20 in quarters only lasts twenty minutes. Did I say the slots were very tight? I couldn’t get to a Blackjack table or craps table and I couldn’t walk a circle around the table area, they backed up to a wall too tight. Did I say the table area was too small?

We didn’t play miniature golf, which we wanted to do. When we had time the wind or ship’s roll prevented it. When weather was good we had excursions. Did I say the ship rolls? It seemed to us and others commented that the Explorer has a noticeable roll from side to side. More than I expected from a vessel this size. We had very mild seas. I believe it must be the physical size of the ship. A solid wall a thousand feet long and about 15 decks above water line provides quite a wind load and I think this is what caused the rolling, a continuous fight against the wind. I don’t know how the ship is in stormy weather.
Did I mention the elevators? I have read about the elevator problem. Sometimes, dinner and after shows, you may have to get on an elevator going in the wrong direction so that you are on it when it goes in your direction. We found after shows in the Palace we would be better off walking to the aft elevators if we wanted to go up.

FOOD: Ok, I gained eight pounds, but that doesn’t mean the food was great, it just means it was plentiful and fattening. My wife had informed me that the food would not be as good as Carnival’s and that they put sauces on everything. I said I would keep an open mind and make my own opinions, now I agree.

WINDJAMMER & ISLAND GRILL: I found the Windjammer and Island Grill was very adequate and almost the same items in each. There was enough choice at breakfast and lunch to allow something for everyone.

We like the omelets in the Island Grill for breakfast. They also had fried eggs if you wanted. We never ate dinner there.

JOHNNY ROCKETS: We ate lunch there twice. Once to try it and again when we were short on time and going ashore. Hamburgers and fries and onion rings. What can you say? We found the chili on the dogs and French fries lacking. I have had worse and better onion rings and fries. What I found nice was eating outside in the booths along the glass walls of the deck listening to rock n roll. Worth a visit but you can get the same at home.

PROMENADE CAFÉ: A feel of Paris or South Florida. Lunch sitting at tables on the sidewalk. Free small sandwiches, free coffee and tea, free ice cold water, free cookies.
Ice cream and flavored coffees for pay. I believe they had pizza but I tried that in the Windjammer and it was bad. The Pizza is like a cheap frozen pizza not the good ones.
Carnival has good fresh pizza and calzones.

PORTOFINOS: We ate in Portofino’s on Monday when we were in San Juan 2 to 6.
It was Venetian night in the dining room. We choice that night, it was my wife’s birthday and we didn’t plan on being ashore very long. We both ordered lobster and each received 1 ½ lobster tails. The service was excellent and a quiet atmosphere. The food was not better than the dining room lobster where we each had two tails. Is it worth the extra money, no. The only reason we did it was for the occasion. I can’t say I would recommend it unless for a special occasion. The service stands out but doesn’t that mean the dining room service could be better? If you read my Triumph review, I state the service we had was the best on land or sea. It would be equivalent of Portofino’s and I didn’t pay extra except for a bonus tip at the end of the week.

DINING ROOM: No consistency. Some meals were very good, some so so. My first experience was very poor. The young lady next to me and I ordered an encrusted baked Cod with some kind of sauce. When the waiter brought her’s out I wondered what she had ordered. Then I got the same thing! In both of our opinions the cod was cool and watery and there was this green sauce on top. It was tasteless and unappetizing. For the first time in five cruises I sent the meal back. The waiter replaced it with a Chicken breast stuffed with broccoli and cheese. I ate half of the chicken, it was like the frozen ones you can buy at Costco or Sam’s Club. This was not what I had been expecting. One other night I did not see anything on the menu that sounded appetizing, and I like to try new food! I had read reviews mentioning ranch steak. I now understand. I ordered the ranch steak off the daily alternate menu. The ranch steak is not the best cut of meat but not bad with a baked potato. When you choose off the alternate menu or eat at Johnny Rockets, something must be lacking with the regular menu. Now the good news. The beef tenderloin (aka filet minion) was very good unless ordered well done. One tablemate ordered it well done and it looked very shriveled up. It is not thick like a normal filet, but tasteful. The New York strip was very good if you scraped the yellow sauce off. It would be better with a good mushroom sauce. Our NY strip steaks were not done as ordered. I sent my well done back, took my wife’s medium rare which was actually medium like I wanted and the waiter brought her a new one close to medium rare. The lobster was very good, smaller than Portofino but we ordered another. One young woman and her daughter only showed up lobster night and my wife counted her getting eight of them.

Lets sum this up, as saying the meals could have been better. You should never have to order from an alternative menu. Did I mention the dining room is beautiful? Our cruise critic friends agree with us that the dining room service was below par. They had better service on the Brilliance last year.

ENTERTAINMENT: The stage shows we seen were very good. We seen two comedians and they both were very good. I feel a true test for a comedian is being funny without being dirty. These guys were funny. We did not attend any of their late night adult shows because they were late night. I have read the ice show was the highlight and we will have to agree. The ice show is very colorful and fast paced.

The cruise director Gordon Whatman, I found very entertaining and he did a couple of songs the last show. He has a very good voice. Gordon emceed the shows and special events on ship like the belly flop contest and battle of the sexes. I thought he did a very good job. I have seen previous cruise directors whose main job was to hawk the shopping and ship’s tours. The explorer had a separate person, Liz Wadden that conducted that end of the cruise. The port and shopping programs pushed a VIP book for twenty dollars.
The VIP book has coupons for free gifts, which in the majority of cases aren’t worth the time to visit the specified stores. The $20 book is really the same type of coupons we have received FREE on other cruises.

I will remark on ports by chronological order.

SAN JUAN- If you like forts see El Morro Castle, you pass it coming into port, and Fort San Cristobal. We visited San Cristobal since we had seen El Morro before. The fort is a short walk (uphill) from the pier and has very steep ramps to walk up to get to the top.
Traffic and very narrow streets in Old San Juan where the dock is. We don’t enjoy shopping there. We have never been to the new area of town except for a dinner show on a previous cruise. Not much time in port this cruise.

ST MARTIN: Our first visit here. I had planned on renting a car and driving around the island, many things I wanted to see. We decided to take taxis. I am very glad we took taxis. Traffic was very bad, streets were poor and we would not have found places in time allotted. If I were there for a week I would rent a car. First stop Orient Beach. It was $5 each in a van. I have friends that have stayed there and loved it. The family area is to the left end, topless in the middle and nude on the right end facing the water. We walked from one end to the other. The end with Club Orient and Pedro’s is the nude section although we seen totally nude people strolling the beach in the topless area also. I have no problem with seeing nudity but can’t see myself walking the beach nude. It was a very nice beach. And we seen all shapes and sizes and some red buns people won’t be sitting on for awhile.
We next caught a taxi to Marigold ($16 for two). Another very congested area. We ate at a sidewalk café but we faced a parking lot with taxis, not romantic like I had expected.
We then got a cab back to Phillipsburg for shopping ($12 for two). Shopping area was much better than San Juan. We bought a new setting for my wife’s wedding diamond and had it reset while we watched. I think we got a pretty good price after I haggled with the first salesperson at Kay’s Jewelers. We also bought a tablecloth ($22) in town. By the time we walked the shopping district, we were to close to the pier to take a taxi. We walked back to the pier, which took about 15 minutes. Taxis cost us $38 for day, about half the price of renting a car and I seen a lot more than if I had to keep my eyes on the road.

ST THOMAS – We like St Thomas, this was our second cruise here and we had also spent a week on the island before. We took a taxi to town ($12 for two). We like the alleyways and side shops in places like Palm Passage and Drake’s Passage. Things have changed since we were last there. More traffic, more jewelry shops. We decided to take a tour of the island since we hadn’t been there for twenty years. We made arrangements for a noon tour ($20 each). Much more traffic than we remembered. We visited Coki Beach, one of the most beautiful on the island, a couple of view points overlooking the city and pier area, Maegens Bay overlook. The tour was about two hours and took us back to the pier. The taxi to the pier would have cost us $6 each. So the $20 tour cost was actually like $14 each. There is much to do and see in St Thomas, a weeks vacation there is worthwhile. Several Cruise Critic members did the BOB and really enjoyed it. BOB is the breathable observation bubble riding an underwater scooter.

NASSAU - Our least favorite port. We had seen everything except Atlantis. We took the water taxi to Atlantis. I don’t recommend this ($3 ea), after the water taxi drops you off you still have quite a ways to walk to get to the hotel. A taxi for $6 would have been better for us. The casino is quite impressive in both size and décor. We did not pay $25 for tour of aquarium and dig. Part of the aquarium is free and the outside area of the hotel is very picturesque. We caught a cab back ($4 ea) from the hotel entrance not the casino entrance. We did a short loop through town and passed by the straw market. We were here two years ago and they were going to rebuild the straw market that got destroyed by a hurricane. They didn’t rebuild, instead it’s a parking lot and the new market is too congested to get down the aisles and the salespeople are too aggressive. Not only did we experience the aggressive nature but also rudeness when you don’t buy from them. Since this was a weekday we did not have to endure the school kids pestering everyone to by a wood flute like our last cruise there on a weekend. Like I have said before, the city should and could be beautiful if money from all the ships was used to make improvements. Once you get off main street, you are in one of the poorer areas of the Carribean. We seen nothing in town we hadn’t seen in previous stops and at cheaper prices. Next time in port we won’t get off the ship or we will pick an itinerary without this stop.

DISEMBARKATION: Our luggage was color-coded tagged and placed outside the night before. We were up about five-thirty and seen us come into port. We docked at seven and people with early flights and tours were off first. We were one of the last groups off and did not get called till a little after ten AM. We thought this was an excessive amount of time. Having 3500 people aboard has its disadvantage. We never felt the ship was crowded until we all tried to get off. We ate breakfast at leisure and stayed in our room till about 9:30. I was anxious to get off, the fat lady had sung.

CONCLUSION: Did I mention the ship is beautiful? You should try this class of ship to form your own opinions. Our friends and I enjoyed our cruise very much. We thought the ship had more movement than normal, food could have been better along with dining room service. The entertainment was above average to very good. The promenade struck some as being too close to the feeling of a mall, but it is spectacular for being in the middle of a ship.

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