I will start off by saying that this was our very first cruise and I was thankful for the Cruise Critic website. This website truly helped me in planning my cruise and I highly recommend joining the Meet and Mingle group. It is a wonderful way to get to meet new people on board and someone had started a Roll Call for our cruise and it was nice to post on line prior to the cruise.
The Explorer of the Seas is a large wonderful ship. Overall we found the ship to be clean and the crew seemed to go out of the way to help you.
We flew into Fort Lauderdale the day before and then drove down to Miami. We rented a car through Hertz and we dropped it off in downtown Miami that morning and they shuttled us to the port. Hertz is great because they do not charge a drop off fee. We reversed the process when we returned from the cruise.
We arrived at the Port around 1:30 p.m. on Sunday and found the check in to be very organized and the line seemed to move right along. We obtained our Sea Pass cards, and signed permission for our 18 year old son to drink if he wanted to. We figured he was in a controlled situation and we could keep tabs on our sea pass account of what/how much he drank.
We proceeded onto the ship where we greeted by staff and directed to our cabin. Our cabin was on Deck 6 towards the aft of the boat on the port side. It turned out to be a very nice cabin. I had requested/ordered birthday decorations and when we arrived at our cabin we found it nicely decorated. We also had a birthday cake there. I was unaware that you got a cake with the decoration package which was nice. By the time we got to our cabin we had a few items of luggage already awaiting us. That was great and before dinner all of our luggage had arrived. We thought our luggage was handled very well and we were surprised on how quickly it arrived.
However, when I cruise again with 4 people (2 adults/2 children), I will be sure and have two cabins. It was crowded and sometimes hard to move around with everyone there at the same time. However, you spend very little time in your cabin, so it wasn't that bad.
The best part of the cabin was the balcony. However, if you want more of a view, (meaning more plexiglass) book a cabin on Deck 7 or above. But, have it on the port side, because when you are in port in the Caribbean, you can be entertained by the late runners. We enjoyed watching every one run to the boat and everyone was on their balconies and cheered them on.
Our cabin had plenty of closet space, but I did pack some extra wire hangers. We had plenty of storage under the beds for our suitcases. The pull out couch, was not very comfortable the first night, but I asked our Cabin Steward, if he had anything he could pad it with and he produced a "egg crate" type pad which really helped.
We then headed out to Deck 11 for the cruise away party. It was a beautiful sunny day and there were plenty of people already laying out and relaxing.
After leaving the port of Miami, we headed down to The Promenade on Deck 5. We purchased a couple of the drink cards. I think for a young child it is a very good price ($28 plus gratuity), but it's a bit steep for an adult ($42 plus gratuity). I know I didn't drink that much soda, I preferred water or lemonade. The Promenade is a great place to get a snack at anytime of the day or night. The little sandwiches are great, cookies are plentiful and the pizza was a big hit with the kids.
We were very fortunate to have a wonderful dinner table on Deck 5, it was right by the window. The servers were wonderful and they always made good recommendations. I would advise on following your servers recommendations, because a few times we did not and the choices we made were not that good. I do believe that they need to improve the food quality, because never once did I walk away saying that was a really good meal. They were just o.k. We sat with three other couples and enjoyed making new friends. We had the early seating because we did not want to eat late, we didn't really feel rushed except for one night and on that night we just ate in the WindJammer.
We would eat breakfast in the WindJammer which was nice because it offered a good variety of choices. The food overall there was o.k. If the WindJammer appears to be crowded just continue on to the back and you'll find the Island Grill which has the same items, plus an omelette bar and plenty of seating.
Overall the food was o.k. Maybe Royal Caribbean will work on the quality of the food.
We attended some shows. The Ice Show was very good. Be sure and get your tickets the first day at sea. The Quest is show not to be missed. It is so funny. We also had a Beatles tribute band and it was so good, my husband went to both shows. The rest of the shows were o.k.
The problem with the boat is that it is so big and there is so many things to do, you just don't have enough time to do everything.
One reason I choose this boat is that it appealed to all ages and I was cruising with an 18 year old, who ended up meeting new friends and experimenting with different beers. It was nice that he could just hang out or go to the Chamber and we didn't have to worry about him. Our youngest met some other teenagers (14-17 yoga) and she enjoyed going to the Teen Club.
There was always something going on out by the pool. Which speaking of the pool area, on at Sea days it was hard to find a chair after 10 a.m. . I finally ended up getting up early, finding a chair and putting my bag on it, heading to breakfast and then coming back. I'd use the chair or chairs as our base for the day, and while we would leave we could come back in just a little while. However, beware of chair hogs who put towels on their chairs and then disappear for most of the day , I watched it happen. Apparently, someone said something to a towel attendant and those chairs were cleared. Which of course was only right. I also enjoyed the Solarium area. What a nice place to sit out of the sun and wind and read a book or take a nap.
My children did not climb the rock climbing wall, they said there was too long of a line. However, they did play miniature golf, basketball and ping pong. There is always something for everyone including a kiddy pool and slide area. It was right behind Johnny Rockets.
Which speaking of Johnny Rockets, it's a great place to grab a bite to eat. If you only want a shake, go to the window and order it and you don't get the surcharge, you only get charged for the shake. Not too many people seem to know that.
My daughter and I also went to the shopping show and found that to have a lot of useful information on where to shop at what port. Tasha was very knowledgeable.
I have to tell you that one thing we used a lot was room service. We would fill out the order the night before and place it on our door knob before we went to bed. The next morning, they would call to make sure we were there before delivering the food. It was so nice to eat out on the balcony. Just be specific if you want more than one of something and indicate how many jellies/butters/etc. you want. If you don't' they will just bring you one.
I enjoyed the balcony so much, it was nice to get up early and watch the horizon or the ports come into view. It was nice to enjoy the breeze when we had the door open. The balcony had a metal wall on one side and a plexiglass frosted portion on the other side. It was pretty private with two chairs and a little table. The wall in the front of the balcony was metal about 3-4 feet high with a wooden railing. I think on Deck 7 and above you had less metal in front and more plexiglass. If you had young kids at least you wouldn't have to worry about them with this balcony.
Overall, the ship was great, the activities were great, the shows were very good and the food was fair.
San Juan was an o.k. port. We just walked around and looked at the forts and historical sites. We did very little shopping. St. Maarten, we loved. We rented a car, cruised the island, went to Marigot, Orient Bay (the family part) and over to Maho Beach-Sunset Grill to watch the planes land. That was awesome. Then we hit the shopping which was great. St. Thomas was a nice port, too. We shopped and took an island tour. Nassau was our last port. It was o.k., but the trip to the Atlantis was nice.
We arrived back in the Port of Miami on Sunday morning and getting off the ship was orderly. We had already put our luggage out with color coded tags the night before. In fact the night before we went and got different colored tags that we had been given, because we didn't want to get off the ship at 7 a.m. So we exchanged them at the Purser's desk and was able to get up, vacate cabin and then eat breakfast. It probably took us about 1 hour to get off the ship and go through customs/immigration.
Overall, we enjoyed our cruise and would cruise on Royal Caribbean again.