We sailed on The Explorer March 12-19. My husband and have cruised multiple times before and this was the first cruise for our boys 8 & 11. It was a surprise for them. **Beware, this is a lengthy review!**
We flew in to Ft. Lauderdale on Sunday morning and rented a car from Thrifty. We drove to the Miami airport drop off location and they drove us to the pier in the Thrifty shuttle. We were able to see the sights and stop for a bite to eat on the way down. This saved us a ton of money on both the flight ($200 a person) and the transportation to the pier.
We got to the pier around 1:00. When we got to the pier there was a bit of a line. They had just started boarding, they tell us it was because of the virus issues they had the week before. The line moved quickly, and before we knew it, we were on board!
Our rooms were ready, so we went to check them out. We had 2 adjoining cabins on deck 9, about 3/4 of the way back. Adjoining cabins is the way to go with kids! We had more room than if we had quad cabin, and the extra bonus.... 2 bathrooms! This was especially helpful when rushing to get ready for early seating dinner after a day on shore. Our cabin attendant was Owen from Jamaica. He was great. he loved the kids, he always said hi and high fived them when they walked by. They loved the towel animals, they left the monkey up for the rest of the trip. Our cabin stunk of smoke badly when we first walked in. It actually smelled like an ash tray. I immediately called the pursers desk, and they were on top of it right away. They sprayed something that smelled like Febreeze, which masked the smell somewhat. Someone from guest relations called to check up on the situation, I told her it still smelled, and she sent someone to change the filter above the door. They called a few more times to check and make sure it was being taken care of. It went away for the most part by that night, and the next day you couldn't smell it anymore. I liked how quickly they took care of the problem. The rooms were nice and clean.
Next we went up to the Windjammer for a snack. The selection wasn't great at this time, I don't know if they were just letting it run out before they got ready for dinner or what, but it was OK because we weren't too hungry and at this point it wasn't too long until dinner.
The rest of the ship was awesome! It's HUGE! It's very well spread out. You couldn't tell that there were 3200+ passengers on board. There were no lines for anything, and if there were, they went fairly quick. The decor is nice, not tacky, and the Royal Promenade is really cool. They made it look like a little street in New Orleans or Paris. There are shops, a few bars with tables on the "street", and the Cafe Promenade, which has lots of tasty treats. They had different desserts and pastries, as well as sandwiches and pizza, which by the way, my boys say is the best ever. Maybe it had something to do with the fact that they could get it any time they wanted. This is also where Ben & Jerrys is, which there is an extra charge for as well as some specialty coffee.
We had early or main seating, which was a bummer. We chose this thinking that late seating would be too late with the kids. It was hard to have to get ready right away after getting back on board from shore. We usually like to swim and hang out after we get back on board. We missed the sunset also because of this :(. We didn't eat in the dining room on 2 nights for this reason. The food was excellent, as was the service. They did have a standard kids menu with mac n cheese, chicken fingers, etc. Lobster night was especially yummy, I ate 2! The Windjammer was good. They had pretty much the same thing every morning for breakfast. It was never hard to find a table. At dinner they served the same thing as in the dining room, with a few extras. The service was terrible. We had to go and find a waiter to take our drink orders, at breakfast it wasn't that big of a deal though, we just walked up to get our juice. The only food complaint is that I wish they had a grill type place for lunch so that you can just walk up and get your food. They had something like this on the Majesty and Enchantment. The soft serve ice cream was a huge hit. Every time we walked out on deck, we made a b-line to the ice cream machine. Best of all, they had Strawberry! Yum! Johnny Rocket's was OK, not the same as the regular restaurants back home.
The pool wasn't too crowded on sea days. Deck chairs however, were hard to come by the closer you got to the pool. We found a few chairs that we moved around. After about 2:00, they did clear out. The hot tubs were my biggest and probably only complaint on this cruise. They usually only had 2 of the 4 open. And the 2 that were open were packed. One of them was freezing cold, and the controls didn't always work on them. It was especially bad in the afternoon/evening hours. Why keep them closed?? The Solarium ones were also packed. No big deal.
I wish we had more sea days so that we could take advantage of all the things to do. We loved the rock climbing wall. It's really high when you get up there! The kids made good use of the in-line skating track. they have nice new equipment available. It was never too crowded, and at times they actually had it to themselves. Miniature golf was cool, how many people can say they played miniature golf on the high seas? The ice rink was only open on the sea days, but the last day the boys used it for a good chunk of the day. We had to pull them off so that they could do the other things. They have a full sized basketball court, and they had dodge ball tournaments which were fun to watch. The kids didn't want o use the Adventure Ocean program, they preferred soing the other stuff. The kids that did use it seemed to be having a really good time. We heard good things about it.
The entertainment was good, at least what we saw of it. The comedians were funny, and the ice was amazing. They say you need tickets, but we just walked in. If you missed a show in the theatre, they usually had it on the TV the next day. As always The Quest was awesome. People get really competitive when they play that game! They were out for blood! They had 2 parades through the Royal Promenade, that were really neat.
Now for the ports.... Belize was our first stop. We did a zip line/cave tubing tour here. We booked it through an outside tour company. The zip line was the best thing we did on this cruise. Booking on our room was a bonus because we didn't get stuck waiting in HUGE lines like the ship tours did. I wouldn't get off the ship though if I didn't have an excursion booked. There's not much there, and it gross and dirty. The area at he pier is OK, but everything is twice as expensive.
Costa Maya was next. We just went and played at the beach all day. We took a taxi to Mahajual for about $12 there, and $6 back. We had to stand in a monster line to get the taxi, and they packed as many people as they could into whatever vehicle they could. They had vans, cars, big trucks, even a Zebra one. There were a ton of people on the beach. The further down you went the less there were though. We had a very enjoyable day. Swimming, snorkeling, eating, drinking. $2 beers.
Cozumel we did a dune buggy tour. Very fun! We snorkeled and we stopped at a pretty much deserted beach for lunch. The tour guide made guacamole and salsa there on the spot and served chicken and rice. The hurricane damage was still very evident. The vegetation is just starting to come back, there are structures that are damaged everywhere you look, and the cruise ship pier was completely wiped out, there were only pieces of rebar and concrete sticking out of the water. They are working hard to rebuild.
Grand Cayman as always was beautiful. Stingray City was packed, but still fun. The place you tender to is much better than where they used to. It's wide open, and you don't have thousands of people funneling into one tiny gate. We isn't use the ship's excursions, we booked our own excursions at all the ports. We used operators that were recommended here on this site. We saved quite a bit of money, and they were less crowded. The tendering went smoothly at every stop. No complaints there.
Debarkation was quick and easy. We were off the ship by 8:30 or 9:00. The boys cried when it was time to get off the ship, they didn't want to leave. All in all, this was the best family vacation we have ever taken. And we have been to many places, Hawaii, Mexico, etc.. The morning after we got home, the boys were already on the internet checking out the Freedom of the Seas making plans for our next cruise. Our 11 y.o. wore his sea pass around his neck for a couple of days after we got home, he said it reminded him of being on the ship. I would definitely sail on this ship again!!!