We sailed as a couple (no kids this time). This was probably our 7th or 8th time on Explorer. Most of our sails on her were the longer Holiday cruises (07-09) and the 9 night Bermuda/Caribbean. We were booked on our yearly (past 3 yrs) Celebrity Summit June cruise but decided this would be our only opportunity to have a "last hurrah" on Explorer before she leaves our home port of Cape Liberty, plus we would turn Diamond+ on board the ship we have the most days sailed on- so we switched. We arrived to Cape Liberty at 11:10am and were surprised pax were still disembarking from the prior cruise. Luggage drop off and check in were pretty smooth. I know lots of folks complain about the "looks" of Cape Liberty Cruise Port (which will be soon changing now that construction for a new terminal & parking deck has begun in anticipation of Quantum OTS. But, we had no issues, it was a very quick and friendly check in.
For us, stepping on board Explorer is like "going home". We know our way around. Accustomed to seeing familiar faces, this was a little different having not been on Ex in 3 or 4 yrs. We don't immediately run to the windjammer buffet, but we made our reservation for Portofino, grabbed a cocktail.....strolled around and finally.....finally, excitedly made our way to our cabin: 1690 AFT. LOVED IT. Our first AFT. It was very spacious and the balcony was huge with 2 loungers and a table and chairs great for dining. We met up with our Sail Away group, some of us were Pink Boa Cruisers. I will quickly mention what a wonderful group of (ladies) folks we are! I will cherish the gift given to me by one of them. Explorer has not been revitalized yet and there is no designated Diamond Lounge, therefore there is an event held in Cloud Nine- a card room turned makeshift (lounge-not really) from 5-8:30pm) 25% off cocktails was not a draw for us, so after day one we found ourselves at Viking Crown. Not much for the free champagne or wine at all. Bar Tenders and staff didn't often address you by name on this cruise. Don't get me wrong, there were some that did, but consistency lacked. Loved the entertaining bar tenders at the Aquarium bar! The cute little shows are not to be missed. We were disappointed in Windjammer, hugely. Less selection than on our last cruises on RCI (Legend 11 night in January 2014 and previously Enchantment 1/2013 also a longer sail). Less selection combined with what we felt was lesser quality, we decided that on this cruise we would go to the main dining room all the time. We had breakfast in the Diamond breakfast and lunch in the MDR- really enjoyable menus and Tutti Salad, plus service was excellent as well. Dinner in the main dining room was good. We had My Time Dining & requested a specific table for every night (other than our nights at Portofino) and we were happily obliged. For us the same wait staff using MTD makes it like traditional and it has always worked very well for us. We always found something to order. There were nights that we had a tough time choosing because most everything sounded yummy, then there were other nights it was tough to order because not much sounded appealing. We didn't see all the shows, but the shows we did see were all great! RCI definitely has some of the best entertainment at sea. I have to mention that Leigh and Erky have to honestly be the BEST "team" out there! (CD and entertainment). Just "wow". Friendly, unique in everything they do, approachable, interactive! What we were disappointed in was the lack of respect of passengers who think it is okay to wear a baseball cap into a dining room, or to wear beat-up shorts and sneakers heavily soiled with years of dirt on them. Other than making for entertainment it does not matter to me. On the other hand it leads many of us to believe that RCI (during summer cruises?) has succumbed to not being able to manage the dining room as expected by passengers who have already shown their loyalty and are swayed into not being able to ruffle the feathers of their newbie passengers. In the frequent conversations we had with our Maitre D, he was also not happy that he had to relax the rules. Having enforced the no shorts/no tee on a few prior cruises, the MDR rating plummeted and Miami was very unhappy. No thank you Miami for caring more about your new cruisers than your loyal ones. The other issue that presents is when giving information to new cruisers and I tell them a man needs to wear long pants into the MDR at night for "dinner", then they come back and tell me how people, men 'were' allowed in wearing shorts- even sagging basketball shorts (now that was really disgusting Miami). But, Ship wise, Explorer looks pretty darn good for a ship that is soon to go in for its Revit and the crew mostly are friendly, you will always find something to eat....room service was also really good (albeit somewhat cold one day). Don't miss Johnny Rockets, the hamburgers are really good, hot fries and onion rings yummy, and the service OUTSTANDING (yes, believe it or not). We did not use the ice rink, rock wall, sports deck, mini golf. Again, we loved our cabin 1690 (just know that depending on how the wind blows you might have a little bit of soot on the deck close to the railing) Was NOT a big deal for us, still loved the cabin and balcony. We WILL very much miss Explorer of the seas as our home ship. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that eventually Liberty of the Seas will be docked here as our Home Ship! We might have a few years to find out, but being hopeful! Cheers, Stacey