Please note that this is my 7th cruise, 4th with Royal and the 1st with a child.
Embarkation: Surprisingly, embarkation was just as easy in Bayonne as any other port. The major difference is that as soon as we pulled up we felt that this port was "ghetto." Before getting to the port, the signage was poor and we had to ask several times where to board the ship. I also recommend bringing your preprinted luggage tags to make embarkation easier as it is quite a bustling area. You pull up, drop off your luggage, then park your car. There is a shuttle that will drive you from your car back to where you dropped your luggage (luggage however, will be gone already but that is how you need to enter in order to check in.) We took the shuttle because it was so hot out but you can walk too.
Cabin: We always get a balcony. This room seemed a bit smaller than balconies on the Freedom, Oasis and Allure. Balcony door was harder to maneuver as it is an older style. The tv was very old. This was more important to my husband than to me but worth mentioning. I also think due to the age of the ship the bathroom vent was not as great as I felt the bathroom was slightly stinky. Because my step-son was with us, we thought he would sleep on a pull out couch. There was a couch in the room but it did not pull out. Rather, the bed comes from the ceiling. It was just fine. I did hear other people complaining that the room was tight and I do agree, especially if you had 2 adults and 2 children, whereas we just had 2 adults and 1 child. However, going into it, we assumed it would be a tight squeeze and we were right. It was not unbearable though.
Food: I thought the food was on par with the other ships. The dining room has he exact same menu we had on the Allure last year and the Oasis the year before. We enjoy the variety provided by the buffet so we only ate in the main dining room on formal nights. The service was very good. This was the first time we did not do the My Time dining and going forward, we would revert back to My Time dining. The Windjammer was never too packed and we enjoyed the food. There was sushi almost every night. They also had a make your own pasta bar for dinner and a make your own omelet bar for breakfast. We had those features on the Freedom but they were removed on both the Oasis and Allure (presumably due to sheer number of guests) so I thought food was very good. For our anniversary we ate at Portofino. While good, I would not say it was excellent. However, the evening was great and it is worth the $20 per person. On the Freedom, Oasis and Allure there is a make your own pizza restaurant in the promenade. The Explorer does not have that but there was pizza available in the promenade and the make your own pizza station was located in the Windjammer.
Sea Days: On the Oasis and Allure, I did choose to spend the bulk of my time at the pool but spent plenty of time doing other activities. I did not feel that there were as many options on the Explorer. But, I did think the poolside entertainment was good. I loved the live music (there was more than on other ships) and they did fun pool games. I felt that they really kept the days going.
Nightlife: My husband checked out the club scene and enjoyed it. We went to Karaoke one night which was fun. Again, fewer choices. I did want to go to the midnight buffet and pool party but I slept through it.
Staff: I thought all of the staff were nice and I felt that any issue we had, was addressed rather well and rather quickly. This has not always been the case on other ships so I must commend the Explorer staff.
You can see my comments about the ports and shore excursions separately. On the Freedom we had 4 ports of call and we were thrilled to do 4 this time too.
In one of the reviews I read, there seemed to be confusion as to whether or not there was 2 or 3 formal nights. On our sailing there was only 2 for the record.
Adventure Ocean: The program seemed well run and my step-son enjoyed himself. There were lots of options as to when the children could be dropped off and picked up. I liked that flexibility. We even scheduled him to eat dinner with AO the night we went to Portofino for our anniversary. It was a nice little break. They took him to Johnny Rockets which he enjoyed and we actually at separately at Johnny Rockets about 3 other times and the food was just the same there as it is at my local Johnny Rockets.
Casino: The casino was small and had limited table games. We enjoy blackjack but there were only 1-2 tables at the most.
Shows: The shows on the Oasis and Allure are Broadway caliber. The shows on this ship were garbage. We walked out. Again, some people did seem to enjoy the shows so clearly it depends on what your point of reference is.
I kept reading about a looming sewage smell on the ship. I was quite worried about that issue but we never smelled sewage around the ship. Someone who was obviously on the same sailing as I was wrote a review and mentioned the storm. That reviewer is correct that the storm was quite severe and we were sitting awake, slightly concerned. However, I thought the Captain made a great decision when he came onto the PA system to address this issue, even thought it was 2am. This Captain, Henrick Loy, is young (or young looking) but he really did a nice job of keeping the ship as stable as he could. Also, I feel that he came over the PA system just to address the guests more times than other captains in the past, which I both enjoyed and appreciated.
Disembarkation: We did the express walk off. It was done in an orderly fashion and we got right off. FYI you will carry your bags off the ship, onto a bus. The bus will drive you to Customs, which is set up where you dropped off your luggage initially. Very smooth.