Overall. This was our first Royal Caribbean cruise and it won't be our last. We liked everything about the design of Explorer of the Seas, especially the layout. With the Royal Promenade and all dining areas accessed from the center, the stairs and elevators were on the side corridors, so there was never a back-up of people getting off the elevators and stairs. In fact, we found it hard to believe there were so many people on board. No matter what we were doing we almost always seemed to have the place to ourselves - the only exception being finding a seat in the Windjammer at peak hours or a place to watch the parade.
Top notch, this is what really sets the line apart from Princess and NCL. From the staged shows in the theater to the entertainment around the ship, the quality was superior - we especially loved "One Love" Caribbean band by the pool, "Rosario Strings", a string and piano duet that played at dinner, and the latin band at Aquarium Bar. We don't spend a lot of time in bars but during brief walk-throughs we found good entertainment there - especially the jazz singers and the Royal Caribbean Orchestra at "Dizzy's."
Even the juggler was better than average.
The ice show is absolutely NOT to be missed. Be sure to pay attention when they announce tickets are available. There is no extra charge but you MUST have a ticket to get in.
The cruise director Richard Spacey and his assistant Lee are phenomenal. Spacey is multi-talented and both are quick witted comedians that can ad lib with the best. They have a "morning show" that is show on your stateroom tv.
I also recommend the Love and Marriage Game Show. Yes, this version of the old Newlywed Game is standard fare on all ships, but Spacey's ad libs are hysterical.
I never expected to enjoy a parade on a ship, but they did a great job with lights, color, costumes and floats - in a very limited space. It was especially nice when travelling to Bermuda off season because you don't get to see the street festival in Hamilton after mid-October.
We found the food to be very good to excellent, not outstanding, but consistent. The buffet (Windjammer) had a lot of variety with an Asian table in the back (Island Grill) and most of the menu items from the restaurants were there. At breakfast, you can get pancakes, waffles, and custom-ordered fried eggs or omellettes at the aft area. Don't forget the whipped cream for your waffles - the real deal. We are accustomed to Freestyle dining so we chose My Time Dining. Don't wait till last minute to make reservations!
My only complaint was that there was no free ice cream, just a self-serve Arctic Zone with frozen yogurt that was icy and not too milky. If you want real ice cream, there is Ben & Jerry's for an extra fee. NCL and Princess had an ice cream parlor that was open limited hours but had real ice cream cones and cups with varied flavors.
We ate at Portofino one night - again, very good food but nothing I can't make at home (OK so I'm Italian, what do I expect?). We totally loved Johnny Rockets and the staff are so much fun - they dance at the half hour - but if I ate like that all the time, I'd need a coronary by-pass. (FYI, it's burgers, shakes, sundaes, grilled cheese, onion rings and french fries). I had milkshakes on a regular basis - they even custom made a banana shake for me. KUDOS to the Johnny Rockets staff.
The service was excellent, but I've never really been disappointed with service when cruising. Our room steward "Jacob" made lovely towel animals and was always available to go the extra mile. We had a lovely waiter at Portofino named Pryesh Patel and the wait staff at the Columbus restaurant was also great. I want to mention again how great the crew is at Johnny Rockets.
One thing that set this crew apart was the efficiency and training that was apparent throughout - they really knew what they were doing and made everything clear. Some ships there is chaos at debarkation or getting on/off ship at ports, but we NEVER had a problem. More on "debarkation" later...
We LOVED the fact that the steam room and sauna were free. There is also a hot tub in the gym area. There was plenty of equipment, the gym had beautiful and elegant design features and the gym director was wonderful and encouraging. The staff was a bit small - just the one guy! - and I was somewhat disappointed with the limited offering of free classes. Working out on a cruise, plus walking up and down steps instead of elevators, is the only way I can keep the weight gain to a minimum.
I did not use any extra spa services.
Public areas, sports deck, etc.
My favorite thing was miniature golf on the 14th deck. How cool, to play golf on a ship. We also tried the golf simulator which had major glitches in the software, but was fun. Unfortunately, my DH wouldn't let me do any rock climbing for fear of injury (Staff assured us it was safe) - I saved it until the last day but it was too windy because Hurricane Sandy was flexing her muscles. I pity the people who sailed out after us.
We don't skate but the ship offers in-line skating every day and when the ice show is not in session, you can also ice skate in the ice rink. There's also a nice basketball court and there were people playing almost all the time.
We loved the design of the ship, so many pretty elements, so beautifully decorated everywhere. Even direction signs were in the shape of a ship. There was one ladies bathroom (near Portofino) that had a picture window and plants!
We weren't traveling with young children, and there weren't many on board, but they seemed to be well entertained with an extensive video arcade and planned activities. I didn't think much of the children's pool.
Embarkation at Port Liberty was a bit confusing because you drop off the luggage in one place and then go into a building and wait on line, and then take a bus to the ship - even though the ship is right there walkign distance! I guess they don't want pedestrians getting hurt with all the luggage trucks. When we arrived with our own car, there was a back up of cars to drop off luggage and we weren't exactly sure where to go but it all worked out. We arrived at port around 11:30 and were on the ship about an hour later. Rooms aren't ready till 1 but you can eat at the Windjammer. I don't recommend carrying a lot of luggage around with you, but bring the essentials because your actual luggage may not arrive until closer to dinnertime.
Coming home was a breeze - unlike the horrendous lines we experienced returning to NYC on another trip - we were eating a lovely breakfast at 8:00, off the ship by 9, cleared through customs and in our car by 9:20, and home by 10:00. The Explorer staff shone with efficiency here: we were escorted into a waiting area where they actually served coffee and pastries, the staff made sure nobody blocked entrances or walkways, and they called our group on time. We chose "express walk off" because we pack light and we had our own car at port.
This was our third trip to Bermuda in five years, so this vacation was more about the ship than the destination, but I must say that this is one of our all time favorite places. We recommend using public transportation and buying a two or three-day pass that allows you to take buses and ferries everywhere, rather than booking any shore excursions.
Our favorite places are Horseshoe Bay for pink sand beach, St. George's for sheer charm and history and Hamilton, also charming but more cosmopolitan. This time we found St. John's Bay, a small pink sand beach that was nearly deserted, which we reached on foot after a beautiful nature hike at Spittal Pond. The tourist season was over so nothing was crowded, but in season we recommend the Harbour Nights festival at Hamilton, with native dancing, and the "dunking" at St. George's. Check schedules and plan carefully. Save the last day for touring the Royal Navy Dockyard area, where your ship is docked, and take a tour of the old fort. There is great shopping here too.
On this trip we did a "first" and went to a golf tournament, the PGA Grand Slam of Golf at Port Royal golf course. The views are spectacular. My husband didn't bring his golf clubs but maybe next time.
So, in conclusion, we were happily surprised by Explorer of the Seas. We had read on CC that the ship was a bit run down, and we had more than a little trepidation about some reviews that mentioned a sewer odor, but we experienced NONE OF THAT. The ship was clean, well maintained, and although some of the design elements were old, it was all in classic good taste and still looked good. We look forward to another cruise on a Voyager class ship or maybe we are ready for the BIG ones Oasis or Allure. We would highly recommend this ship to anyone looking for fun on the at-sea days as well as a beautiful destination island. And if you live in the NY/NJ area, you won't have to fly to the port, making this a very economical choice.