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Explorer of the Seas Cruise Review by silentbob007

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Explorer of the Seas
Explorer of the Seas
Member Name: silentbob007
Email: mongc@yahoo.com
Cruise Date: July 2008
Embarkation: Bayonne (Cape Liberty)
Destination: Canada & New England
Cabin Category: D1
Cabin Number: 6354
Booking Method: Cruise Line
See More About: Explorer of the Seas Cruise Reviews | Canada & New England Cruise Reviews | Royal Caribbean Cruise Deals
Member Rating   5.0 out of 5+
Dining 3.0
Public Rooms 4.0
Cabins 3.0
Entertainment 3.0
Spa & Fitness 5.0
Family & Children Not Rated
Shore Excursions 4.0
Embarkation 5.0
Service 5.0
Value-for-Money 4.0
Rates 3.0
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Ship Facts: Explorer of the Seas Review (by Cruise Critic!) | Explorer of the Seas Deck Plans
My review: Explorer of the Seas - New England/Canada
Quips, quirks, and biases

One of the great things about cruise vacations is that, in many cases, they are what you make of them. On a mega-liner like Explorer of the Seas, there seem to be options for everyone, ranging from sporting events (like an adult dodgeball tournament) to family events (family ice skating) to quiet moments (drinks at the Champagne Bar before dinner). In this small section, I just want to give a little background for you to understand what makes me tick on my cruise vacation.

For this sailing, I was a graduate student on summer break (kind of) traveling/sharing a room with my parents who are both school teachers (one retired, one also on summer break). This was my 17th cruise vacation, and 8th on Royal Caribbean. My parents have been on a similar number of cruises and this was their 11th Royal Caribbean sailing. For this cruise, all three of us were Diamond cruisers, and this was the first time we've been Diamond and sailed on a ship with a Concierge Lounge (more on that later). We've mostly stayed loyal to Royal because of NextCruise, Crown and Anchor, and stock owner benefits. This was my 2nd time on a Voyager-class ship, my mom's 3rd time, and my dad's first.

In terms of what we are looking for in a cruise, it is more of a search for quiet moments than staying active. We are not really ones for extensive sun-bathing (good thing on this cruise), and even without the concierge lounge, the three of us would typically run a bar bill under $50 for a 7-day cruise. We normally attend some shows, skip others, and do a few Vitality or entertainment events.

Pre-cruise

This was our first-ever cruise leaving out of Bayonne, so planning for it was definitely a new experience (I've plenty of experience with FLL, Miami, Canaveral, and LA). Having no interest in visiting New York before the cruise (I was just there in April), planned to fly into Newark and stay in a local hotel. We booked a Continental ExpressJet direct flight from IND to EWR, and we arrived in New Jersey one day early at around 3:00 PM. We then proceeded to our hotel, the Country Inn and Suites Newark Airport in Elizabeth, via the free shuttle they offered (which supposedly runs about every 20 minutes ... we waited about 25, so I guess I'll assume that we just missed it).

Ah ... the Country Inn and Suites ... this may be a fun story. I booked this hotel based upon the positive reviews it had received from this board and the fact that it looked to be in a fairly "safe" neighborhood across from the Jersey Gardens Outlet Mall. I purchased this hotel on Hotwire (with a 95% confidence that this was the exact hotel I would receive), and even though it was more expensive, I played nice and specified that the booking was going to be for three people, assuming that it would be nice to have an assured two-bed room (something that I always get anxious about when I book on either Hotwire or Priceline ... but something I've never had a problem with in the 3 years and over 20 hotel stays I've booked with those companies). In the end, it was about a $50 savings over the hotel's AAA/AARP price (or about 33% off). I had tried to call the hotel about three times in the final days prior to our arrival to confirm our reservation/room, but all three times, at different times of the day, there was such a back-up on the phone that I never talked to a human being and eventually hung up after about 5 minutes on hold.

Upon arrival, I waited in a short line (there were two clerks, but one was on the phone ... big surprise there). I noted that their paperwork did confirm that we had three guests and didn't press further. We then proceeded up to our room, where the key didn't work. I then had to go back to the desk to get it recoded. Upon return to our room with the new key, the door magically swung open to reveal ... a single king bed. I then trotted back down the stairs to the front desk to be told that all two-bed rooms were booked, that I could rent a roll-away for $10, and if I was unhappy, then perhaps next time I should book directly through the hotel and not through a "third party." I found this disconcerting, but didn't see the sense of arguing, so I told them to hold off on the roll-away and headed back to the room to place a call to Hotwire. While placing the call on my cell phone, the room phone rang, my mom picked up, and it was the desk-clerk trying to explain why it was our fault we had a king room and to repeat that we'd be better off in the future to book directly through the hotel. During this conversation, I had navigated Hotwire's phone menu and had immediately been connected with an operator who listened to my story and called the hotel to ascertain the situation. He then returned, agreeing that 3 adults should not be slotted for a one-bed room, and told me to go ahead and buy the roll-away. I was told to keep my receipt, and to later fax it to Hotwire for a refund. This seemed like the best I was going to get, so I agreed, and 15 minutes after a call to the front desk, I had a small roll-away sitting underneath the window in the room. Later, upon checking my email, I found a $25 gift certificate in my in-box for a future purchase from Hotwire, so at least in my mind, that company had tried to do right. As for the Country Inn, I understand that it is NOT the desk clerks' fault that I had been assigned a king room, but I really didn't appreciate the lecturing about booking directly through their company.

Sorry for the long rant ... so I guess I'll make the rest short. We spent the rest of our day at the Jersey Gardens Mall (there's a Country Inn shuttle, but it is very walkable). We ate at the Jersey Gardens Diner right next to the hotel ... it wasn't fabulous, but it offered large portions of very decent food with good service. The next morning we partook of the Country Inn's free breakfast (after going down once and heading back ... the room was swamped with two bus groups ... perhaps why we could not be accommodated the night before), which is fairly decent with make-you-own waffles, hard-boiled eggs, and other standard, continental fare. At around 10:45, we had the hotel call us a cab to Port Liberty. We had the feeling we were being jerked around a little bit with a $65 un-metered ride (as we had heard from others to expect around $50), but the ride ended up being around 30 minutes with traffic.

Embarkation

Our taxi dropped us off at about 11:30, and a porter immediately arrived to take our bags over to the luggage bin. We tipped him about $5 for our 3 bags, and then headed through the terminal and security until we reached the check-in lines. There was a separate area for priority check-in, and a lady guarded this area with a list of eligible guests. As we made our way through the line, the first groups of guests were allowed to start loading the busses and head to the ship (around 11:45). By the time we had checked in, the first few boarding ticket numbers had been called. We immediately went outside, caught a bus, and were driven to the Deck 1 gangway of Explorer of the Seas.

Once aboard, as per tradition for early boarders, we headed immediately to the Windjammer for lunch ... as usual, the rooms would not be open to drop personal affects until 1:30 (cabin areas are blocked off with bulkheads). I always enjoy the first lunch, as it is the only opportunity to grab some honey-stung chicken (I know it's not the best thing ever, but hey ... it's tradition!). Once we had eaten (and ran into a few of our Cruise Critic comrades) we explored the ship for a little bit, waiting for 1:30 to come around. When we headed to our cabin at 1:40, our luggage was already waiting for us, which was a first. Another first came at the muster drill where our assigned station met in the dining room. The muster drill seemed to go quicker than usual, though I'm not sure if it was actually shorter or if it just seemed that way because we spent it sitting down in an air-conditioned room.

After the muster drill, we held our pre-Meet and Mingle Cruise Critic gathering at the front of the ship on the helipad. This place was selected, in part, at my suggestion, and I think it turned out to be a good one. We were able to have a clear view of the Statue of Liberty in the far harbor, and in truth, the helipad definitely wasn't super-crowded. I am of the opinion that during sail-away, most people try to go as high on the ship as possible, with the sun-decks becoming almost unbearably crowded. Also, from past experience, informal mingles become unwieldy with "meet at the pool bar" directions because a) there are a lot of people and b) there are usually more than one pool bars. Of course, there's no bar at the helipad, though a quick stop at the Schooner Bar before heading out to the outside promenade deck can remedy that desire if you are so inclined (just don't slosh your drink climbing the final flight of stairs up to the deck). There is one caveat, I guess ... I don't believe that the helipad is handicap-accessible in the course of normal passenger usage.

The Ship

The Explorer of the Seas is the second Voyager-class ship. It features a Royal Promenade, a dedicated sports deck on the back of the ship, an ice rink, and unfortunately metal "cave" balconies (which separate Voyager and Explorer from the rest of the ships in the class. I thought that Explorer had some very nice areas, though since it was my second voyage on this class of ship, there was not as much of a WOW factor. The Royal Promenade is always an impressive space with entrances to shops, bars, and the casino. I always enjoy finding a seat and reading/writing on the Promenade, though I occasionally found myself wishing for some ocean views (I find the areas with views, such as the Schooner or Champagne Bars are less conducive to sitting down at with my laptop).

The biggest complaint that I could make about this ship (and the rest of the class) is that the elevator situation can, at times, be unbearable. On this nine-day cruise, the average age of passengers skewed much older than any of my previous cruises, with many people in scooters or with canes who needed the elevators. Of course, even able-bodied passengers cast leery eyes towards the stairs, especially when making the trip from the Promenade to the sun deck or Windjammer, which is a hefty six-flight jaunt. Combine the large number of people wanting to use elevators with 12-14 decks to travel between, and suddenly 5-10 minute waits for already-packed elevators were not uncommon. It didn't help having an aft-cabin, of course, because that meant our "home" bank of elevators were also the ones used by people traveling to the dining rooms, Viking Crown Lounge, and Windjammer.

The public spaces seemed to be well maintained, though one would run across the occasional footprint on metal walls. The Royal Promenade was always kept clear, and there were almost always plenty of seats available at the shows except for the Welcome Aboard show, which was the now-standard single show for all guests.

The Crew

Overall, I thought that the crew was excellent. To be honest, I didn't run into a single person who seemed to be having an "off day" ... everyone seemed to be genuinely pleasant. The Windjammer staff did an awesome job at clearing tables and, if your hands were full, grabbing drinks. I always felt sorry for the Cafe Promenade folks, as the ones dealing out free cookies, sandwiches, and pizza slices seemed to be consistently swamped. Our cabin attendant was Winfield, and he always did a good job cleaning up after us. Our waiters were Virgilio and Antonio (I think), and they offered very prompt service with rarely a pause or empty water glass. The cruise director and Vitality staff we interacted with were also very friendly, and they would take the time to chat about their interests.

The cruise director was Dave Chapman, and I thought he did a good job, though he didn't really stand out too much from some of the other cruise directors I've encountered. It seems like all cruise directors have the same playbook, with few deviations, so it makes it hard, in my opinion, for them to distinguish themselves when they use the same jokes, routines, lists, etc. I did see Dave around the ship, so I'll give him credit for that. He also had a morning show that ran on a loop from 7-11 each morning where he would essentially read the Cruise Compass. I know many people really enjoyed that, though I could only stand it a few minutes ... I guess it just wasn't my type of thing.

Crown and Anchor

This was our first cruise as Diamond members aboard a ship with a Concierge lounge, so that was definitely a new experience for us. Upon arrival to our cabin, we found an envelope that contained our keycard to the lounge, which we visited directly after sail away to collect some ice show tickets. Not meaning to take offense with the next sentence, but upon entering, I was struck by the very tiny size of the room and the fact that it was packed, wall-to-wall, with passengers, wheelchairs, walkers, and oxygen tanks. Since it was a completely enclosed room, it seemed completely oppressive and uninviting. After we quickly left, we headed to the auxiliary lounge in Cloud 9 in the Viking Crown, and that room was so much nicer for my tastes. It had nice windows overlooking the deck and the water, was staffed by some very attentive gentleman (Dan Ryan and Keith George), and just felt much more open (even though there were only about 4 tables in there with maybe 20 chairs). Needless to say, we spent the rest of the cruise visiting this lounge and were never disappointed. Other Diamond benefits were pretty much limited to our coupon book and debarkation lounge, which were nice to have.

Cabin

We were in cabin 6354, which is a balcony on the sixth deck, starboard side, towards the aft. We chose this room because, as a superior balcony cabin, it had a sofa bed instead of a Pullman bed that comes out of the wall. The cabin was of decent size, though the balcony seemed tiny (my last ones have been an aft on Grandeur and an extended one on Brilliance). The balcony is within the superstructure instead of outside of it, meaning that the balcony feels a little like a cave. This feeling is increased by having a metal front instead of plexiglass, which is probably the feature I found most irritating as you can't really see much of the water while sitting on your balcony.

As with most Royal cabins, there were quite a few drawers and other compartments to store items. The three of us were able to unpack all of our stuff and store it without too much of a hassle. One feature of Voyager-class cabins that I love are the showers with doors instead of curtains ... no worries about flooding the place or becoming intimate with a piece of plastic.

I think it is also important to note one downside of the cabin ... it seemed very worn. Wood edges were worn, and other wood fixtures were heavily scratched. One of the drawers was broken and would not go back onto its track. The painting in the cabin was dirty with hand prints, scratches, and scuffs. The sofa had large stains on the cushion. Throughout the course of the 9-days, two screws fell out of the handle to the bathroom door. There were large patches of rust on the balcony, and the outside door handle was heavily eroded. The balcony rail had absolutely no varnish on it and was completely course to the touch. None of these things really ruined or affected my cruise, but I have never really been in a ship's cabin before that felt so used and it seemed that a little revitalization needed to be done.

Crown and Anchor

This was our first cruise as Diamond members aboard a ship with a Concierge lounge, so that was definitely a new experience for us. Upon arrival to our cabin, we found an envelope that contained our keycard to the lounge, which we visited directly after sail away to collect some ice show tickets. Not meaning to take offense with the next sentence, but upon entering, I was struck by the very tiny size of the room and the fact that it was packed, wall-to-wall, with passengers, wheelchairs, walkers, and oxygen tanks. Since it was a completely enclosed room, it seemed completely oppressive and uninviting. After we quickly left, we headed to the auxiliary lounge in Cloud 9 in the Viking Crown, and that room was so much nicer for my tastes. It had nice windows overlooking the deck and the water, was staffed by some very attentive gentleman (Dan Ryan and Keith George), and just felt much more open (even though there were only about 4 tables in there with maybe 20 chairs). Needless to say, we spent the rest of the cruise visiting this lounge and were never disappointed. Other Diamond benefits were pretty much limited to our coupon book and debarkation lounge, which were nice to have.

Cabin

We were in cabin 6354, which is a balcony on the sixth deck, starboard side, towards the aft. We chose this room because, as a superior balcony cabin, it had a sofa bed instead of a Pullman bed that comes out of the wall. The cabin was of decent size, though the balcony seemed tiny (my last ones have been an aft on Grandeur and an extended one on Brilliance). The balcony is within the superstructure instead of outside of it, meaning that the balcony feels a little like a cave. This feeling is increased by having a metal front instead of plexiglass, which is probably the feature I found most irritating as you can't really see much of the water while sitting on your balcony.

As with most Royal cabins, there were quite a few drawers and other compartments to store items. The three of us were able to unpack all of our stuff and store it without too much of a hassle. One feature of Voyager-class cabins that I love are the showers with doors instead of curtains ... no worries about flooding the place or becoming intimate with a piece of plastic.

I think it is also important to note one downside of the cabin ... it seemed very worn. Wood edges were worn, and other wood fixtures were heavily scratched. One of the drawers was broken and would not go back onto its track. The painting in the cabin was dirty with hand prints, scratches, and scuffs. The sofa had large stains on the cushion. Throughout the course of the 9-days, two screws fell out of the handle to the bathroom door. There were large patches of rust on the balcony, and the outside door handle was heavily eroded. The balcony rail had absolutely no varnish on it and was completely course to the touch. None of these things really ruined or affected my cruise, but I have never really been in a ship's cabin before that felt so used and it seemed that a little revitalization needed to be done.

Bar Harbor

We booked the "Best of Bar Harbor" tour through the cruiseline for this stop. Since it was a return to the US after visiting Canada, everyone had to go through immigration. Immigration on this sailing occurred on the 4th and 5th floors of the dining room, with US citizens heading to the fifth floor and everyone else going to the 4th. You had to clear immigration before leaving the ship, and you could not return to the ship until everyone else had cleared. After hearing some bad stories from the July 3 sailing, I'm happy to report that immigration was completely painless. People with early tours were asked to go first, and others were called fairly quickly. We went when they called for all tours before 9 AM and walked right through without having to wait at all. Our tour was to start at 8:30 and they were already calling non-tour passengers by that time.

Cleared to leave the ship (by a mark on your SeaPass card ... so you can return to your cabin to pick up items/drop off passports), we headed to Studio B at 8:00 AM for our 8:30 tour (with tickets that said to meet at Studio B 15 minutes before departure). Even though we were "early," the people waiting in line there told us that they had already seen a large group with our sticker numbers leave. We waited about 10 minutes for a tender, and by 8:25 we were on land. We quickly found our bus and were 3 of the last 6 people to board the bus ... no problems about missing it, but I was a bit miffed that we were "stragglers" who were simply following directions.

Anyway ... with the bus loaded up, it took off for the first part of our tour ... Acadia National Park. The bus wound around the park, stopping twice. One stop was at Thunder Hole (which wasn't thundering at that time) and the other stop was at Cadillac Mountain. Both stops were for about 25 minutes that started when the bus pulled in ... which I always found irritating because it took about 5-8 minutes for the people in front of us to actually get out of the bus (so there's 1/3 of our time waiting). The weather was chilly, with many people wearing (or wishing they were wearing) jackets and long pants. It was especially windy on Cadillac Hill ... er ... Mountain ... so come prepared if you are easily affected by cold temperatures.

The driving/stops took probably a little over 2 hours, after which we headed to the Oceanarium, where we heard a 20 minute talk about lobster fishing and were then herded back on the bus without the chance to look around. This was a very underwhelming stop ... the talk was interesting, but without the chance to explore, the place seemed more like some guy's house than a learning aquarium.

After leaving the Oceanarium, we were then taken to the College of the Atlantic to see a few buildings and to take pictures. This stop felt very tacked-on and didn't really prove to be too interesting to me. Once back on the bus, we were taken back into town where we were told that we could be dropped off at the end of town (needing to walk through the shopping district to return to the tenders) or, if we waited, we could be dropped at the tenders. We opted to get off in the shopping area, and then wandered around looking for some place to eat (it was almost 1 at this point).

Since the tour guides and the tender drivers recommended the West Street Cafe, we thought we would give it a shot. There was a small wait, but we were seated in about 15 minutes (which is, ironically, longer than it took to receive drinks). The service was not good and seemed overwhelmed. The food was decent, but seemed a little overpriced to me ($15 for a lobster roll ... which looked like mayonnaise and meat in a toasted hot dog bun). I had a blueberry ale which, in all honesty, had a blueberry flavor so light, I could barely taste it.

After eating, we did a bit of shopping on the main drag (prices were amazingly high, of course), then headed back to the tenders. The tender process was fine, though it took about 15 minutes to clear the tender, which is frustrating when you are waiting in the sun.

Final thoughts on Bar Harbor: If you are interested in Acadia, take the Acadia-only tour and skip the "best of" ... the added stops didn't seem worth it to me and made the tour drag a bit. If you want to just see the park, there is a free shuttle that makes a park loop (that looked like it could get fairly crowded). I saw the shuttle pick up at the town square, but am not sure if that was the closest stop to the pier or not. The only downside of the shuttle is that I heard it does not go to Cadillac Mountain, so if you want to go up there, I guess you need to have an alternate form of transportation.

As for restaurants, plenty of places had lobster and lobster rolls, with the rolls seemingly costing more than a single lobster dinner. Prices seemed to get cheaper the further away from the pier you get, but obviously I cannot attest to the quality of any of the other places.

Portland

The weather on for the day of our visit to Portland was miserable. We had a tour scheduled to go to Kennebunkport in the afternoon, so we got off of the ship in the morning to walk to the L.L. Bean outlet in Portland, which took us about 15-20 minutes to walk to. The store wasn't huge and the selection wasn't the greatest ... for me, it was obvious why some of the stuff hadn't been sold or had been returned. Sizes were limited, as were colors. The best deals to be had in-store were probably monogrammed items that had been returned ... sure, it may have someone else's name or initials on it, but it's also half-price. Oh ... in some of the coupons being handed out on the pier, there was a coupon for a percentage off at the outlet ... don't forget to look in that coupon book, as we didn't notice it until we were back at the ship.

We returned to the ship in a moderate rain, stopping underneath awnings or in stores along the way. Portland seemed like a very nice city, and its wide side walks were definitely appreciated after spending a day in crowded Bar Harbor.

At 1:00 we headed off the ship for our 1:30 Kennebunkport tour, and found a large mass of people huddles outside underneath a covered area. When the tours were finally called, we were ushered to the buses ... so we got rained on while waiting for the first people to board and take their seat. Why the buses couldn't move closer to the covered area I'm unsure of ....

It took the bus about an hour to get to Kennebunkport, with the guide giving facts about the area long the way. Once we arrived, we were told that we had about 90 minutes to walk around and shop before we needed to get back to the bus. It was still a miserable, rainy day, so some people chose to stay on the bus instead of heading out. Not daunted by rain (though I left my camera on the ship because of it), we walked around, bought postcards, grabbed a coffee, and even tried a lobster roll at Aunt Marie's ice cream/lobster roll stand (at $11.95, it was cheaper and better than the one I had in Bar Harbor).

At the end of the allotted time, we returned to the bus and ended up having to wait a few extra minutes for stragglers (annoying, but not too bad). We were then driven around Kennebunkport and shown various beaches, houses, and Walker Point (where the Bush estate is). Since we were in a bus, we were not allowed to stop and take pictures of place, though many people who had come in cars were taking pictures from the side of the road. We then returned to Portland at about 4:30 (I think) and headed out of the rain and back aboard the Explorer.

Final thoughts on Portland: The close L.L. Bean outlet was within walking distance but was a little underwhelming. Those I talked to who took a tour to the main store seemed to like it quite a bit, though I was of the mind that wasn't going to pay to go shop. The Kennebunkport excursion was fine, though I'm not sure I'd recommend it because it was a lot of driving for not-too-different sights and experiences other than to say that I'd been to Kennebunkport. Portland seemed like a nice enough place that I think that, with better weather, I'd of preferred to stay there.

Boston

Explorer's last stop was in Boston. Since this was our first visit, we once again went with a ship's tour ... Historic Boston and Cambridge. This time we knew we needed to be early, and at 20 minutes before the scheduled meeting time, we still landed on the back of the bus. Sheesh.

I thought that this was the best of the tours we took. Our tour guide was very informative and obviously knew where he was going (as he was giving the bus driver specific directions). Our first stop was the Old North Church, made famous for the lantern story serving as a backup to Paul Revere. We got off the bus, walked a few blocks to the church, and listened to the presentation offered by people working there. We then headed up a moderately steep hill to see a cemetery, then down the other side to pick up the bus again.

After re-boarding the bus, we headed to Cambridge where we stopped at Harvard. We were given a tour of Harvard yard (complete with about 500 other tourists), and were then set loose for about 30 minutes of on-your-own shopping and exploration time. The lines for the recommended t-shirt shop were ridiculous, so we went to the Harvard Bookstore to look around and then later returned to Harvard yard for pictures.

After returning to the bus, we drove by MIT, then were taken back to Boston and were driven past Fenway park. We had half of a stop at Trinity church, where people who wanted to take pictures were given a few minutes to step off of the bus and take them, then hop back on. We then went around Boston Common. The tour ended at Quincy Market, where we could get off and take a taxi or shuttle back to the ship. Given the rainy weather, we opted to return to the ship on the tour bus.

Some notes: The ship offered a shuttle to/from Quincy Market that was $10/pp one way and $14/pp roundtrip. Our guide admitted to us that, if we took a taxi from Quincy Market to the ship, it would be cheaper as long as two or more people split the fare. I know some people also did the hop-on/hop-off bus, which could be picked up at the Westin, which seemed like it would be about a 10-15 minute walk from the port. I think that one could also walk fairly safely to Quincy Market from the ship, but that would probably be at least a 30-40 minute walk.

Final thoughts on Boston: This is the stop I was most looking forward to (as I enjoy history and have been to other historically-rich cities, such as Philadelphia), so I was glad that the tour ended up being both interesting and informative. I would really like to return to Boston to do more on-my-own stuff, such as walking the Freedom Trail, but we all know that one of the downsides of visiting a location on a cruise is that your time is usually severely limited.

Food

I know the topic of food is completely subjective, but since it also usually plays a major part in the cruise experience, it's worth talking about. I had read some not-too-kind reviews of the Explorer's food offerings prior to this trip, so I'll admit that I went into the cruise with low expectations.

Dining Room I thought that the appetizers and main courses in the dining room, for the most part, were actually very good. There were usually a variety of offerings, though the menu seemed smaller now that they've added the "daily" items to the main menu instead of having them off on the side. I ordered beef several times and the only almost-inedible piece I got was the prime-rib on the last night ... besides that, it was always tender and moist. I was also impressed by the lamb shank, which was huge and fell of the bone. The now-famous fisherman's platter was surprisingly offered the last night of the cruise and, believe it or not, the lobster was actually cooked very well ... it wasn't mushy or too tough.

We ate lunch in the dining room every chance we could, which was three times on this cruise (two sea days and one late port arrival). Lunch featured custom-made salads that were very tasty, though the line could get to be very long to get one. Other than that, two different menus were used, and they are the same Brasserie 30 menus that have been offered for the last few years with a variety of different food options. I've never gone in a hurry, and thus have never requested fast service, but I've yet to have a "30 minute" lunch take less than about an hour (which is fine with me).

We ate a few breakfasts in the dining room, and to be honest, I was less than impressed. I ordered eggs benedict, and twice the poached eggs were undercooked. My dad ordered pancakes (they are his favorite) and found them to be so dry on several occasions that he switched to an omelet.

The one major complaint that I have about the dining room food is a lack of quality, signature desserts. There were a few nice ones (chocolate chinois trilogy, B52 melt on the lunch menu), but otherwise, they felt either uninspired or just turned out nasty. My biggest problem were the desserts that seemed to be gelatin based as a way to cut corners. For example, I ordered tiramisu and was given something that looked like a square piece of cake. I tapped it with my spoon and it wobbled ... come on. Tiramisu is made with cream, not gelatin. I always see dessert as a big send-off for the night, and I look forward to eating them on a cruise because I never order them in a restaurant, so I was definitely disappointed (and craving at least something on the order of Carnival's nightly chocolate-melting cake).

Windjammer

We ate at the Windjammer for breakfast most mornings. The food quality wasn't excellent, but seemed unfortunately to be about the same as the dining room. Probably the highest quality thing you can grab is either fresh fruit or custom-made omelets/fried eggs. For some reason I kept going back to the biscuits and gravy hoping for an improvement would never occur. The biscuits were always hard as a rock and the gravy's consistency ranged from water to glue, depending on the day. I did enjoy the fried, circular hash browns (like are served in many fast-food restaurant breakfasts).

We also often ate at the Windjammer for lunch, as it was usually the only sit-down venue open. I was fairly impressed with lunch, as there were always plenty of choices. There were Asian options on the Jade side, and back in the Island Grill, there were always pastas and pizzas available, as well as deli sandwiches. Besides the every-day stuff, the hot-bar menus changed daily, and most of the stuff I tried was pretty good. Desserts sometimes seemed better here at lunch than in the dining room at dinner, but maybe that was because they had cookies and I could see/avoid desserts that obviously displayed the rubber-wobble.

Cafe Promenade

I really love the idea of Cafe Promenade, and stopped there several times for cookies, brownies, and coffee. I had one slice of pizza (to remind me of how awful I find Royal Caribbean's pizza) and a few of the little sandwiches. My biggest complaint about this area is that there is not real indication of where to form a line, so people who want sandwiches or cookies start forming separate lines and arguing about who should be served next.

Murder Mystery Dinner at Portofino

I signed up for this online, as it sounded interesting. For around $50/pp you get dinner theater (preformed by the ship's dancers), a limited menu at Portofino (anti-pasto, ceasar salad or onion soup, filet or seafood dish, tiramisu), and unlimited wine (red or white). The murder mystery was intentionally hammy and pretty funny (mostly because the hilarious Jesse). The food was very good, though I still wasn't a huge fan of the tiramisu (better than the dining room's by a mile, but I still make a better version). The wine service was disappointing, as they "ran out" for a while during the main course, only to suddenly "find some" for the dessert course ... I guess it was just a coincidence, but struck me as a way to save some money. In the end, I'm glad I did it, but would probably not do it again.

Entertainment

There were plenty of shows and live music available on the Explorer, but this still seemed like an area that was lacking from my previous RCCL cruises. I didn't see any of the production shows, beyond the welcome aboard show, so I can't comment on their quality (others seemed to like them, though). I went to see a few of the other performers and thought that they were mostly mediocre. One of the singers spent most of the show talking and an impressionist spent the first 20 minutes of his show doing impressions from radio show ... definitely skewed towards an older crowd. There was not a celebrity headliner on any night, and a few nights had no real shows, with the ice show or the love and marriage show serving as the main entertainment (when I've usually seen these as secondary entertainment options). The ice show was, as expected, the highlight of the ship's entertainment.

As for the scattered music options, I didn't participate in a lot, but from walking by, the piano player in the Schooner Bar sounded terrible to me. I really enjoyed the guitarist in Dizzy's Lounge in the evenings, though didn't find any real jazz in the late "jazz hour."

Debarkation

We were a little nervous about our flight leaving at 12:30 because of the busing situation at the port, but we decided to go ahead and put our bags out because we were able to go to the Diamond departure lounge. This was in the Maharaja's lounge and there were attendants who checked IDs to make sure only Diamond members entered. At about 8:45, before any colors were called, we were escorted down the back stairs and taken allowed to exit the ship on a separate gangway from the rest of the guests. There was also a bus waiting for us ... so we were the first passengers getting bags, which was a very nice perk (no lines!).

We talked to a taxi company to get to the airport, and they ended up sticking us in a shared-ride van with others going to Newark. This van was $14/pp and was perfectly fine. We arrived at the airport in plenty of time for our flight.








Publication Date: 09/01/08
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