This is my first time doing one of these reviews so please bear with me! My husband and I sailed on Explorer of the Seas from November 12 through 19, 2006, with three other couples (no kids - we left them at home for this one!). My husband and I had previously sailed with Royal Caribbean three times: 1999 - Majesty; 2001 - Enchantment (our honeymoon); and 2002 - Bermuda. We were looking forward to our first cruise on a Voyager-class ship.
Embarkation Day (Sunday): We flew to Miami from New York and only waited about 15 minutes for the Royal Caribbean transportation to take us to the pier. Once there, we made it through the embarkation process fairly quickly - the whole thing took us about 30 minutes at most. Once onboard, we found our staterooms and then headed up to the Windjammer for lunch. We have always found the food in the Windjammer to be good, and this time was no exception - there was pasta, sliced ham, chicken, sandwiches, hamburgers, hot dogs - all the usual things you would expect at a buffet. After lunch, we went to the mandatory muster drill, which was handled quickly and efficiently, and then spent the next hour exploring the ship. I found the ship to be huge (I kept getting mixed up all during the cruise!) and can't imagine what it would be like to sail on Freedom!! We went up to the pool deck for the sail away party, which ended up being delayed. An announcement was made that we were waiting for some passengers' luggage, but no one seemed to mind much at all. The dinner seatings were delayed slightly (30 minutes) as they were trying to get everyone's luggage delivered to their cabins. We went to the Welcome Aboard Show, which featured a comedian, Majestic (a pair of dancers), and the Royal Caribbean Singers and Dancers. It was a very nice show. Our dinner was great - our waiter, Tenzing, and her assistant, Oktay, were wonderful. Tenzing was extremely attentive and was on top of everything throughout the entire cruise. We couldn't have asked for a better waiter! Oh, one other thought - our dining room bartender, Ian, was a lot of fun and was always quick to get us whatever we needed.
Cabin: This was our first time in a cabin with a balcony and we were very happy. It was great to go out on the balcony as we were pulling into port and not have to worry about being crowded up on the pool deck. (We'll probably will never be able to sail without a balcony ever again!) The cabin was definitely big enough for the two of us and had plenty of storage for all our things. Our cabin steward really took care of us and we had the towel animals we've come to expect each night of our cruise. I was much happier with our shower this time around, being that it had curved doors instead of the usual shower curtain.
Public Areas: The public areas of the ship were much better than I expected. I thought because of the number of people on board that I would feel crowded at times, but that was not the case. We never had trouble finding lounge chairs on the pool decks, even on our days at sea. During the week, we spent some time at the Palace Theater, the Maharajas Lounge, the Weekend Warrior Sports Bar, Dizzy's Jazz Bar, and the Schooner Bar. We found all these areas to be quite comfortable, and they have been maintained very well. One of my favorite areas of the ship was the Royal Promenade, with all of the shops and eateries.
One thing we did get to experience during our cruise was the Medical Facility. One of the women traveling with us ended up getting seasick and we had to take her there. They handled her problem quickly, giving her an IV and some pills. A word of warning to anyone out there who has never used the Medical Facility onboard - you will pay for any medical treatment you receive out of pocket (billed to your Seapass account) and are given paperwork to submit to your insurance company once you are home.
Activities/Entertainment: I have to say we had a lot of fun on this cruise. The guys climbed the rock wall and used the golf simulator, my girlfriend and I took a yoga class (which was great!), and, of course, we played bingo (our friends who were first time cruisers actually won a cruise!). The shows that we saw at the Palace Theater were good; the two late night adult comedy shows were a split decision - one good, one not-so-good; and the ice show that we saw at Studio B was awesome!! As far as I'm concerned, this is a must-see, as is the Love and Marriage game show. As on other cruises we've taken, it was absolutely hysterical. It really is amazing what some people will say! And we had a great time at The Quest - two people from our group were the leaders of our team. It's quite funny to see men walking around without their pants or wearing someone's bra (definitely an adults-only show). I even got to show off my new tattoo! The games up on the pool deck are always fun - the belly flop contest was fun to watch (we even got a little wet since we were in the front row) and my girlfriend and I had a great time judging the Mr. Sexy Legs contest. Our cruise director, Allan Brooks, was THE BEST!!!! He was funny, engaging, and really gets the crowd going. He's got a great staff working with him too.
Food/Dining: For the most part, we ate breakfast and lunch in the Windjammer, especially on days we were in port. As I said before, we always find the food in the Windjammer to be good. We ate breakfast a few days in the dining room, and that was very good (I love the eggs benedict!). The food in the Main Dining room at night was very good as well - I think the only night I wasn't overly thrilled was Caribbean night. I had Jamaican Jerk Chicken and it was okay. We did not go to Portofino, but we did go to Johnny Rockets. The food there was good, but we did have a little trouble with the service being slow. We also grabbed a late-night bite at Cafe Promenade (very good) and ice cream at Ben and Jerry's (always good).
Shore Excursions: We thoroughly enjoyed our shore excursions, although the last one in the Bahamas wasn't as good as we thought. We took a horseback riding excursion in Puerto Rico, did a 4 x 4 adventure in St. Maarten, a mini-boat adventure in St. Thomas and the Yellow Bird tour in the Bahamas. We had a great time - the excursions were well organized and as described. As far as our excursion in the Bahamas goes, I wouldn't say it was the excursion itself that wasn't as good. The weather that day was quite cool and the Yellow Bird tour takes you to a small island where you can relax on the beach for a few hours. We decided to rent some wave runners for what was to be a half hour. The people we rented the wave runners from are not associated with the tour in any way. As it turns out, the guys that rented us the wave runners called us in much sooner than expected only giving us about 15 minutes instead of the paid-for 30 minutes. After some arguing, we got some money back. Other than that, the seas were quite rough that day so when we headed back, the boat was really rocking and it was hard to dance and party on the boat. (It was quite funny trying to do the electric slide with the boat rocking that way!)
Debarkation: Our debarkation day went very smoothly - no problem whatsoever. We were not able to arrange our return transportation to the airport through Royal Caribbean (our flight was before 12 p.m.), but there was no problem getting a van for all 8 of us and the cost was very reasonable ($9 each).
Overall, we loved this vacation and would definitely sail on Explorer of the Seas again in the future. You definitely cannot go wrong with this ship!