We were on the Oct 27th sailing, and this was a much anticipated cruise. Overall we had a great time. It was my first time on Royal Caribbean and second cruise overall, my first being on Celebrity for an Alaska cruise. I guess we're rather young for this crowd, my husband and I being in our twenties. We also asked my parents to come along as they were ready for a much needed vacation after so many years of not taking one. It was their first time cruising, and I guess we had convinced them to come after we raved about our Alaska cruise. They definitely enjoyed themselves very much on this cruise and said this was the most relaxed they had ever been. If it wasn't for the very rough sea day the last day, they might have immediately booked another cruise.
We are all big food people, and I have to say that even though we appreciate everything else, to us enjoyment means good food. And now without much further ado,
THE FOOD (copied from my posts on the RCI boards)
All in all, I thought it was great. If Celebrity was a 10, then RCI was an 8. It definitely exceeded expectations, as everyone on these boards told me beforehand that RCI didn't really focus on the cuisine, with entertainment taking more of the forefront. The dishes in the MDR always came out hot and well seasoned. They didn't have as many high end ingredients as Celebrity (less lamb, duck, sea bass, and big scallops), and most meals were protein plus potato in some form, while Celebrity had more inventive sides. Just like any large dining venue, some things were hits and some were misses. But we definitely had our fair share of very good meals.
There were four of us so we got to try almost everything off the menu in the MDR, with each of us ordering 2-4 starters, 1-2 entrees, and 1 dessert. Our waiter, Kumar, also tended to bring out whatever we didn't order. I would say about one dish in every round was excellent, another 60% was fine, and the rest were not worth a second bite.
For starters, I enjoyed almost all of the soups, with the consummes and broths being especially good. There was also this roasted poblano and corn soup one night that was really really good. Everything else was fun to try, and nothing was too memorable for being especially bad or especially good. The salads were always mesculin greens with some kind of other thing thrown in. Hmm, the prosciutto on board is not very good, so avoid that if you like prosciutto. They also tend to throw bay scallops in everything--I guess there's an escargot shortage and a bay scallop abundance. I've had pasta, salad, everything except dessert with bay scallops in it.
The entrees were always a protein with potato in some form with carrots/string beans/asparagus. The sauces were very basic, nothing very creative, and the meats were always cooked well, and if not they would bring you another that was. The steak was also not as thick, but my DH said the prime rib was one of the best he's had. The fish was sometimes surprisingly good for not being day-of fresh, so it's worth ordering just to see. And the last thing they had was always some sort of very cheesy/creamy vegetarian thing. Even when it says something else like eggplant parm or penne in chardonnay sauce, it was always either baked with a pile of cheese on top, or in a very heavy alfredo-like sauce. So those were a bit disappointing. Oh, the lamb shank on the very last day was excellent. It makes sense that a cruise ship could cook something that needs to be slow-cooked well.
Desserts were also fine. I would say about half of them are tasty and half of them tasted like cafeteria desserts. Sherbet was great, ice cream was full of ice crystals. Creme Brulee didn't have that nice crust on top, but the flavor was interesting. They were all a bit too sweet for my taste, especially after that heavy meal. They seemed to sometimes make up for lack of flavor by adding sugar.
I was very pleasantly surprised by the lunches in the MDR. The lunch carpaccio was better than the dinner one (which was cooked? huh?), and pastas, salads, lamb skewer, and desserts were all delicious. Better than dinner, I would say. I had a orange white chocolate flan for lunch that was probably the best dessert I had all week.
Cafe Promenade had good sandwiches, terrible pizza (especially for someone coming from NYC area), and bad desserts. It was also the only 24-hr eatery, so we were there quite a bit to grab a cup of tea, get some fruit, or something or other.
The Windjammer was the biggest disappointment. Our very first meal on board was there, and it was just awful. I even made sure to get the honey-stung chicken that everyone on Cruise Critic raved about, and it was just okay. I was hoping it was all due to it being the first day chaos. After that and getting desserts at Cafe Promenade, we were all a bit subdued thinking this is what our meals will be like on Explorer. Thankfully our dinner that first night in the MDR was great and we ate well the rest of the cruise. We only went to the buffet a few times after that, and it always seemed like a pretty sad sight to me. It was just more meat swimming in sauce, potatoes of all kinds. It reminded me of a bad college cafeteria. Tried to find something to eat there, but I actually went hungry in several instances. The only good thing was the fries. Was very disappointed in it, especially after the Celebrity buffets. The quality was much, much lower than the MDR, in my opinion.
We also booked one meal in Portofino, which was excellent. Service was amazing, we received many more starters than what we were supposed to get because of our excellent waiter, and we could not find fault with any dish. Well worth the $20. The last time I had restaurant Italian food this good was in Italy (I live in Jersey, we have lots of great little Italian osterias, cafes, and gelaterias, but haven't been to many restaurants). My parents were very pleased with the MDR food at first, but after Portofino, they said they were now spoiled and the MDR didn't quite satisfy anymore.
Embarkation was trying. The port was very confusing, and it was hard to figure out where to go. It took us about 2 and 1/2 hours to get from when we arrived at port to when we got onto the ship. We had an inside stateroom as did my parents, and they were both fine. This was my first time in an inside, and there was plenty of storage space. The bathroom is definitely a bit small but manageable. Our stateroom attendant, Dwayne, gave us towel animals every night. The service on this ship is impeccable. Very friendly and bending over backwards to make sure you are well taken care of. For being an older ship, Explorer looks great. We used all the facilities like the rock climbing wall, the mini-golf, ice-skating rink, played a round in the arcade during the free hour, hot tubs, pools, and it was all fun. The only complaint I have is that things are not open for many hours during the cruise. We could never figure out when the inline skating was open either. The evening shows were fine, though we thought the Celebrity ones were better. I guess we're not the right age for the entertainment, as a lot of the music went right over us. The first dance show was probably my favorite. The ice show was fantastic. It was so good that we went to see it twice.
We only shared one drink a day (the ship has great bars), avoided the casino as much as we can, didn't use the gym or the spa. Unfortunately my one other complaint is that the smoke from the casino was pretty much unavoidable. There was a stair from the casino to the Promenade, which made decks 3, 4, and 5 all pretty smokey. And unlike Celebrity, it was pretty hard to avoid walking through the casino.
It was our first time in Bermuda, and it was beautiful as promised. Like good first-timers, we visited Horseshoe Bay the first day and found the cove on the side where there was some good snorkeling. We're not really beach people, but understood that's what Bermuda is famous for so we went to the beaches. The second day we took the ferry to St. George and spent the day at Tobacco Bay. The water is definitely a bit chilly at the end of October, and I envied the people with wetsuits. The last day we wandered off to Somerset Long Bay, and we were the only people there. I guess there are some advantages for going at the end of the season. Oh, we bought the booklet of 15 bus/ferry tickets for $30, and that was perfect. I don't understand why so many people were buying the bus passes when it was so much cheaper to get the booklets. Oh well.