If you read the reviews on the Explorer of the Seas, they are unusually mixed. For most, the entertainment, the ice show, the varied entertainment rooms and activities on the ship and the positive attitude of the entire ship staff are real pluses…..and I agree. Unfortunately, there some areas that just don't work…
First and foremost is the food. It's almost difficult to know where to start. Perhaps the entire kitchen should be given a copy of the Royal Caribbean Cookbook that they sell on board. Any resemblance between recipes and pictures in this cookbook and what's served on board is completely accidental…and I am sure that if anyone actually produces something that looks like any of the dessert pictures, they are promptly fired.
This is nine days of eating at your local low cost buffet or inexpensive restaurant. There's plenty of food, but it's really mediocre. Now, if you view food as a necessity more than something to enjoy and any food that you don't have to cook yourself as a good meal, you are going to like the Explorer of the Seas. If you like your fish cooked soft enough so you don't need a cleaver to cut it or you like a dessert with anything like a flaky crust or something other than sheet cake squares, you are going to hate the food on the Explorer of the Seas.
Desserts are the most disappointing of all…I can't imagine how anyone could gain weight on this cruise. They should nickname the Explorer of the Seas "the Sheet Cake boat"…because for the most part, that's all you get for desserts….squares or wedges of various desserts that can be made in a sheet. There just aren't any iced cakes, fruit tarts or eclairs or anything liked the iced cakes and pastries you find on other cruise lines. They do try at some other desserts…an orange souffle was an inedible sticky cakey thing…a parfait was a gelatin pie of some sort with no ice cream at all. The rice pudding was unusual but it was OK. I did not see an iced layer cake on the entire trip. Birthday cakes now cost $11+ so you see few of them being served and they are meagerly decorated…the choice is white or chocolate cake.
Dinners had many choices, and while the sirloin steak and roast beef were generally good, the fish/lobster/scallops were inedibly overcooked, metallic tasting (scallops) or mushy (lobster tail). The Indian vegetarian dishes were wonderful and most all the soups were good….but that's about it. No wine stewards at all…order from your waiter (who knows nothing at all about wine). The corn on the cob served with the turkey dinner must have been cooking since the last cruise….little change in the uninteresting breads…sour dough buns every day or sliced bread…that's pretty much it.
Breakfast and Lunch at the Windjammer were the most disappointing….little change, a small salad bar with very limited items, a very limited made to order sandwich bar (ham, salami, mortadella, cheese rollups.…a cheese area which featured sliced american or swiss (that's it)….long lines to get an omelette or freshly made eggs (just two cooks for 3100 passengers). The ever present scrambled eggs in a bin looked suspiciously like powdered eggs. Melon cubes or slices…not even a slice of pineapple or any type of berry to be found. . Worst Hamburgers I've ever tried to eat…just awful tough, dry inside but greasy on the outside…likely reheated day after day.. This ship has no trays….carry your bowl of soup or plate to your table….or carry it while you look for a table is more accurate. If you don't mind lines, there is a much better salad bar in the dining room for lunch…but you first have to wait in line to get seated and then wait in the line at the salad bar…it just wasn't worth it to us.
If you want breakfast in your room, your only egg option is scrambled eggs or egg beaters with bacon or sausage. No pancakes or waffles or any type of muffin.
The gala poolside (midnight) buffet one night by the pool was just food put out on tables on deck….no special decorations other than the ice sculptures…..sheet cake squares, chili, tacos….first time I've been to that type of buffet where I took no pictures and ate nothing. One has to wonder if there is anyone in the EOS kitchen who can actually decorate a cake or make up a good looking platter of food?
IMPORTANT: One area that everyone considering the Explorer of the seas should consider: the Explorer has no hand sanitizers or dispensers for guests anywhere…and the folks who prepare and serve food do not wear any clear plastic gloves unlike every other ship we've been on in the last few years. Personally, I try to avoid buffets where the tongs and spoons just sit leaning into the bins because at some point those handles that everyone has been touching wind up falling into the bins and touching the food…in fact there was no place provided to put the serving utensils anywhere but back in the food. Why my concern? During my limited cruising time, I do not want to get sick and be confined to my room by the medical staff which is exactly what they do if you have any stomach problems. Re-reading old reviews, this isn't new to the Explorer…apparently they haven't used sanitizers or gloves for some time now….and I missed reading those reviews. Had I known this, I would not have sailed on the ship. You can, of course, make your own decision. From my perspective, RCL is a business trying to compete with carnival and NCL and to do so, they have to cut back in some areas to be cost competitive. I am sure their accountants have tuned their food menu most carefully, but, for my wife and I, they have gone much too far. One wonders why you pay a required 15% tip on top of the inflated bottle of wine price if there are no wine stewards…does that extra 15% also go to the accountants? There just don't seem to be enough staff assigned to helping people (remember the age of our passengers)…no one to help those with physical needs get elevators, not enough people seating passengers at breakfast/lunch to reduce the line, no one on shore at port stops just in case someone has a question or a need when they return to the ship.
The Explorer of the Seas probably works well on the 5 day Bermuda cruises with a younger, partying crowd…and certainly it must work better in the Caribbean with families who utilize it's many kid oriented activities. For us, the ship does not work for a 9 day Canadian cruise with over 70% of the passengers being over 70…many wheel chairs, walkers, canes. At this age, few use the stairs…everyone takes the elevator so there are always long waits; there are lines to get into breakfast and lunch in the dining room. The entrance to the windjammer is crowded to the point where at times it was difficult to get in or out because RCL has rented space to vendors who set up tables right in the only entrance way. The wait to get into Johnny SeaSaw's (the only good hamburger on the ship) was always over 30 minutes and sometimes an hour.
We booked this cruise for the itinerary…not the ship of the line, although we are platinum due to our many cruises on Celebrity. Based on our experience on this cruise and ship, we won't be sailing on Royal Caribbean again and we will never take a cruise ship with 3000+ passengers on board.