For our 2nd cruise vacation me and my boyfriend (him 30, me 27) decided to try RCI's Explorer of the Seas 9 Night Eastern Carribean. Last year, we flew to Miami and took Carnival to the Western. We liked the idea of the ship leaving 20 minutes from our home in New York. Of course, since it was our 2nd cruise, we couldn't help but compare…a lot. However, by the end of the vacation, we both realized that both experiences were very much the same in a lot of ways. What Carnival lacked, RCI made up for, and vice versa.
Embarking the ship was a breeze. We arrived at exactly 2:00pm, unloaded our bags, found parking not far from the terminal, and in 15 minutes we were in our suite. A big change from last year standing out in the Miami sun for two hours! I was however a little disappointed that we didn't enter into a scenic ship atrium. You come in right by a bunch of elevators on Deck 1, and no one even shows you to your room. Your kinda on your own.
The room itself was comparable to our last cruise, although, somewhat smaller and more "hotel like." The balcony was alright, but if you sat down on one of the lounge chairs all you could see was a very blurred view of the ocean.
Although there is A LOT to do on this ship, especially with the sports deck, you are on their schedule. My boyfriend works at night, so he is nocturnal, and unless you wanted to get up at the crack of dawn every morning the sports deck was not always available. We tried to rollerblade a few times and all except once, the gate was closed and locked up. One time there was a tiny tiny puddle so they closed it, another time there was just nobody there to rent skates from even though it said on the Compass that they were "open until 6:00". Now, due to the "puddle" I'm not quite sure why they couldn't just mop it up. Hmmm… They have "sessions" for everything and unless you make those one hour sessions you will have a hard time using the facilities. The rock climbing wall situation was ridiculous. I must have gone up there every single day. It was either closed until the next session or no one was running it. You were able to play mini golf at night, but due to the wind it was more of a hassle than relaxing. So unless you are ready to plan your day by the minute you might run into a problem gaining the most out of these "gimmicks." Carnival did not have these activities at all, but, since we didn't get much out of them anyway, it wasn't really a big draw over last years cruise.
Since we are both night people, we were looking forward to going rollerblading under the moonlight (which we were never allowed to do), or seeing a good live band and having a few drinks. Well, unless you were part of the dinner/show crowd there is not much entertainment after dinner time. I don't think this was due to royal carribean as much as it had to do with the fact that the majority of passengers were the over 50 crowd. That's what we got for going 9 nights during September. The bars and clubs (if you even want to call them that) were virtually empty, and not once did I see any live Jazz in the beautiful jazz club they had. Whenever we made it up there, there was either no music at all, or very very soft recorded music. We wound up spending every night at the Kettle Pub watching a guy sing and play a guitar to a back up track. He was okay, but he was really the only show in town, so we didn't have much of a choice. He only new about 15 songs and he played each one nightly. Same people, same songs, same experience.
I honestly didn't see the difference in food between Carnival and RCI. It was cruise food…nuff said. It was alright, nothing spectacular, but very edible. What I found very odd was that getting ice was very difficult. Getting water was also very difficult, as I only saw one water cooler on the whole ship. The ice tea and lemonade were really horrible and the burgers were lower than average. Although, the pizza was out of this world. The room service pizza was even better. I suggest getting a soda package (which we did not do), as after awhile that watery iced tea can get a little tiring.
We missed st. Thomas due to hurricane Florence. Which meant that we were at sea for three whole days. We got a little stir crazy, but it wasn't too bad. I liked the fact that the chairs (when you did find one) were better quality than carnival and much more comfortable. They did have an adult only pool in a separate area which was also nice.
The shows were fantastic, and the ice show was amazing. Even the random parades they had at midnight were a sight to see and worth making it out to. Another good point was the service…from the waitstaff, to the guest relations desk, to the room stewards, was outstanding.
The ports were great, and we had a good time as always. Labadee, the private island is a really good time. Especially if you are a beach/water person. I wasn't too impressed with San Juan, as you feel as though you are in Miami. Everything is very American. St. Martins Rhino Riders is a great, fun, blast of an excursion and I highly recommend it. That was probably the highlight of our cruise.
Upon leaving the ship the only annoyance is that they make you leave your room by 8:00 and then you are all just sitting around for two hours. But once we were called we were home within one hour.
All in all it was a good time. If it was my first cruise and I had nothing to compare it to, I probably would have had a better opinion. Carnival has a way of pretty much forcing fun down your throat, but then again royal carribean has less annoying announcements and random conga lines while you are trying to read by the pool. There were pros and cons to both ships, and I would cruise on both again. If I have to give any real critique, it was the lack of availability on the sports deck, and not much alternative entertainment to their nightly shows.