My wife and I recently sailed on the RCL Explorer of the Seas. We enjoy cruising and have tried several lines and a variety of itineraries. The following are personal observations using our previous cruise vacations as a baseline. Everyone has a unique opinion; if you have booked this ship then do not second-guess your decision, you will do doubt enjoy it. If you are contemplating this ship, then recognize that you should not let other people's opinion make up your mind. I will forego comments on the ports of San Juan, St. Martin, St. Thomas (a great port) and Nassau since this has been covered many times; if you have a specific question however, feel free to E-mail me and I will do my best to answer it. We always book our own excursions in ports where safety is not a concern and usually save about 50% off the ship's excursion prices.
Embarkation: We arrived at 11:30 AM and were onboard and in our cabin within 45 minutes. RCL states 1PM for cabin availability but seems very flexible on this point. We brought liquor onboard without any problem. A TSA approved lock was broken off and I do not believe that the cruise ships have the master key to this type of lock.
Cabin and attendant: The balcony cabin interior is similar to most of the ships we have sailed on, but our cabin was showing it's age and was pretty worn. The accommodations offer great utilization of space and there were a few storage areas we never even noticed until we were packing to depart. The balconies on the Voyager class ships seem too enclosed and lack the openness of some other ships. The new Princess vessels for example have great balconies and do not feel like a white iron capsule overlooking the ocean. The cabin attendant is luck of the draw and this time we were assigned one that did a fairly poor job. He did the bare minimum despite an extra $25 tip upfront.
Dinning and Drinks: We did not believe that the Windjammer food was very good and the place simply wasn't clean. We stopped eating there by Tuesday after noticing some unpleasant things and also reacting to an ingredient in the food that gave us both cramps. The formal dinning room food was mediocre; mind you, we have realistic expectations and do not anticipate gourmet food with 3,000 passengers to feed. However the meals were not very good, usually presented at room temperature and were loaded with salt. Dedsert was the exception and we enjoyed the variety and quality. Service was excellent and the staff tries hard and does a terrific job. The dinning at Portofinos on the other hand was incredible. The menu does not change but the quality and the service are absolutely wonderful. Pizza in the Promenade Cafe is very good, as are the burgers and fries at Johnny Rockets. Wine selection and prices are good; bartenders are attentive and the drink quality is good and prices are reasonable. Liquor purchased in port is diligently confiscated by the security staff and returned at the end of the cruise.
Entertainment: With a doubt the entertainment on the Explorer is the best we have experienced on any previous cruise. The production shows are well choreographed and produced; the dancers and singers are lively, well rehearsed, and very, very good. We were fortunate to experience a performance by Rain, a group who does an incredible "Beatles" review. It truly felt like a Beatles performance; the sound, costumes, appearance and even the vintage instruments all combined to provide memorable entertainment. The ice show is not to be missed and all the other venues on the ship offered wonderful singers and instrumentalists. The casino staff is very friendly but like all other ship casino staff, a little lacking in training and experience. If you play craps, pay very close attention to your bets and pay-offs. My wife won $500 on a slot machine the first night; I gave all that and more back at the tables. However the casino is lively, great fun and not very smoky.
Disembarkation: Explorer does a great job of getting the people off the ship, however the luggage is a different matter. We were off the ship by 7:30 and didn't even have time for a cup of coffee, but our luggage did not arrive on the conveyers until almost 9:30. This is a creative way to prepare the ship for arriving passengers, so in some ways, the trade off when boarding is worth the long wait at the end.
Summation: Our opinion is that perhaps to remain competitive, RCL is being forced to economize and it is very apparent. Still, the Explorer has much to offer and remains a wonderful vacation experience.