Background- We have sailed with Royal Caribbean since the late 1980's, however not recently though, so we were not aware of how much the line has changed.
Embarkation- Cape Liberty does not operate as efficiently as say Miami or Fort Lauderdale or the many other better known cruise ports. Bayonne is known as a container shipping facility for which they are better suited. Royal Caribbean homeports one or two of its ships here and the staff does try to make it easy. However, it can get very confusing and frustrating under the system that they have.
Ship- Explorer of the Seas is an older ship of the Voyager class ships and it does seem to be showing signs of wear. It is due for a refit I believe in 2014 but it still does not have all the amenities of the Freedom class ships. The decor throughout is very muted, quite frankly bare and the staterooms are fairly small as well. We booked a junior suite not knowing the actual size of the room but were pleasantly surprised, roughly 300 foot. The room made up for all the other inconveniences that we had.
Activities- Activities were minimal at best. Everyday a different form of trivia and spa lectures and demonstrations seemed to dominate the day. At night there was always a show although not very good and plenty of varied music for listening and dancing pleasure. Poolside games were non existent although the children's activities were a full agenda all week.
Dining- RCCL has deteriorated in this category the most. Things that were always standard fare in Main dining room were non existent. For example. they took away lobster and escargots and made it for fee. Also gone are the cheese trolley and port wine for dessert as well as table side service. Head waiters do not make special foods anymore for you if requested and meats such as veal and lamb were nearly non existent on the menus. Portions are very small although the waiters will always bring you additional. Food presentation is a horror show, looking like the food was just slapped on to the plate. Very unappetizing. Several meals came out on such hot plates that you knew was just microwaved and the food was actually cold. Beef was used on a regular basis, with the menu hardly changing, and always was served with a cream sauce. In fact, most of the meals were served in a cream sauce, which tells me that they were camouflaging day old meat. Windjammer Buffet was another experience not to be believed. Seating was very difficult at all times of the day and the wait staff not too accommodating in that venue. Breakfast is the same wherever you go, but lunches were routinely the same day after day. Also, I must mention that the serving platters had the food just heaped on them which did not give you incentive to eat. I could go on about quality and preparation but I'll try not to make this a long review.
Service- Service throughout the ship was excellent and the crew works really long hours as well.
Summary- All in all, Royal Caribbean has cut back dramatically in all areas. They really need to step up a notch or two in my honest opinion to remain competitive with some other cruise lines. We normally sail with the luxury lines such as Seabourn and Crystal and even Oceania, and although you do pay a little more, the cruise experience you receive cannot be rivalled anywhere. Cruising became all for big money and as a result service and personal attention has suffered.