We originally wanted to book a trip with Holland America as we have had an outstanding experience on the Oosterdam. We should have stuck with that. We spoke with some travel agents and wanted suggestions for what cruise line would be best to get married on. They insisted that we would like Royal Caribbean more as it catered to younger people and families. Although I made them aware that age of passengers didn't matter, what we cared most about was food quality and variety, service, and entertainment. We knew that Holland America went above and beyond our expectation in those categories. Even though we did our research and noticed that the passenger to crew ratio was way higher in the Explorer of the Seas, we wondered how so few crew members could service such a mass of people. My wife and I remember saying to each other at one point, "It's a cruise, how bad could it be? I'm sure everything will be fine."...and against our better intuition we booked it.
So let me start this way, booking the trip was simple, and booking the wedding was also simple. Royal Caribbean sent us a package of islands we could be married on, the cost of each, the location on each island and all the services and upgrades we could have for the ceremony such as # of guests, open bar, food, steel drummer, flower arbor, live music, all of which we selected to do on St. Thomas. If you are thinking about getting married in the caribbean, do it! All of the above pretty much cost under $3000 and we had 30 guests!
One thing that irritated me about the booking was that I ordered gifts to my stateroom each day to surprise my wife and make the trip more memorable. These items included chocolate dipped strawberries, bottles of wine, wedding decorations, decorative cake, etc. I called Royal Caribbean several times to make these arrangements and even to correct them several times. The people they have working in their call center are not very knowledgeable of their product and are very rude. One day I ordered a bottle of merlot. The woman on the phone insisted is was pronounced "merr-lott" and ordered a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon which she also felt the need to correct me that the correct pronunciation was "Cab-er-net Savings" and that Dom Perignon was "Don Pig-non" and Moet et Chandon was "Mote and Shannon" being irritated over this I called after my order to make sure it was correct and surprise surprise it wasn't. If your sole purpose of your job is to fulfill wine orders...don't you think you should know at least something about that product...perhaps how to pronounce the brands and varieties?
On another order I ordered, flowers, chocolate dipped strawberries, decorations, etc. the man on the phone took the order wrong. Not only did he have it going to the wrong stateroom but it was addressed to my wife from my wife. After calling to correct this they corrected the stateroom problem but when we arrived on the ship it was addressed to my wife from Tom...my name is Steve...and we don't even know a Tom.
One thing I am disappointed about, although the wedding was beautiful, we wanted to get married in Megan's Bay because it was a beautiful beach but Royal Caribbean told us it wasn't possible. 2 years later we witnessed a wedding there when we were cruising with Holland America again, it was beautiful. Oh well.
Embarkation was sloppy. We arrived by taxi and there were swarms of people trying to figure out what to do with their luggage. We didn't know who to trust, and the crew only confused matters. After an hour of trying to figure that out we managed to find a very long line that we were suppose to be in. Even though we filled out our electronic boarding pass it took at least 3 hours to get through this line. Other cruise lines have much smoother embarkations.
Once getting on the ship we were sort of lost. Normally there is a crew member there to greet you and fill you in.
There is one thing I have to say about Royal Caribbean that is true. Their ships are breathtaking! I hate to admit it but yes, their ships are a lot nicer than Holland America, Carnival, and Princess BUT, and this is a big BUT, Royal Caribbean ships are very, very crowded! I must applaud them on their architecture, it is as if they dream something up and make it happen. Very flashy, well decorated, you stand in awe looking down the promenade which is several stories high and designed to look like a shopping mall on a street with cafe's and bars.
We eventually heard over an announcement that lunch was being served in the buffet. We made our way over and waiting in a very long line to serve ourselves. The food looked delicious and fresh but was actually pretty tasteless. Finding a table was also painful. I know that most of the crew was busy with embarkation procedures so I tried not to judge. On a further note, the food in the buffets stayed the same daily, remained tasteless, remained hard to find a seat, and had never ending lines. We ate there only twice the entire cruise. although I despise most buffets, this was the least impressive of them all.
As for the Dining Room, the food was only ok. This was disappointing because my wife and I eat practically all our meals in the main dining room on a cruise. WE ARE FOODIES! There were a few decent dishes throughout the week. Most of it was bland and repetitive though. If you ordered a medium steak, they would bring a well done steak. If you asked them to replace it with a medium cooked steak, they would once again bring you a well done steak. Lets get one thing straight, Royal Caribbean obviously caters to the masses. They don't care about custom order to please the individual and make your cruising experience more personable. Carnival and Princess have dining much better than this and Holland America far surpasses all of them. Another thing that bothered me about the dining room was that the menu never changed for breakfast and lunch. 2/3 the dinner menu stayed the same daily, they just had a few different specials every night. So the food was not only tasteless but it was boring. You were sick of the menu by the end of the week. The positives, our servers were very quick, and very happy to serve us. Very nice guys.
I had 2 amazing meals on this ship and they were in Portofino's, the pay restaurant on the ship. They had a great wine selection, they decanted each bottle for you. The meals were amazing! My only complaint is, every meal in the dining room should be of this standard just as it would be on every other cruise line.
As for the cabin, it was spacious as far as cruise cabins go. It was clean, had traditional decorating. We had a verandah but had no privacy. instead of separating each deck with a wall, they had a glass panel, and our neighbor was able to see us...which led to an awkward morning when my wifes bath robe fell off...why would Royal Caribbean design it that way? NOT ROMANTIC! Our cabin steward, met him at the beginning, he seemed like a nice guy but never remembered who you were. Normally on a cruise, your steward makes a point to get to know you and your preferences making the trip seem more customized and personal. Over all I have no complaints about him as he did manage to clean our room daily.
Service is very important for cruising and for the most part Royal Caribbean was a miss. Aside from our dinner servers, we actually found most of the crew to be anti-social or rude, including the captain who at his dinners seemed to want to avoid and have nothing to do with the passengers. We met some very nice bartenders also but that was it. I remember seeing crew yell at passengers for walking on an area that was just vacuumed in a public spot in the ship...if it is a public area, and it isn't closed off, shouldn't you be able to walk on it? It is a heavy populated cruise ship. Other cruise lines give you service that makes you seem like family, a warm in fuzzy feeling, didn't get that here.
Entertainment was a total flop. I remember seeing 3 shows and walking out after realizing I just wasted my time. The magician was not funny or entertaining, he was actually just offensive and did the typical card tricks everyone in the world has seen. The comedian gave us a few laughs on another night but nothing memorable. We also saw a singing and dancing act another night...couldn't follow it or get into it. I couldn't tell if there was a story or a theme. The words were hard to make out, the dancers were not in sync, and once again, the acts were not memorable. Overall, I don't think Royal Caribbean puts much thought into their shows. It was as if they booked people without researching them and what they did. We had much better entertainment experiences on other cruise lines! We didn't bother making out to other shows after that, and from what we hear, it was best that we didn't go.
As stated above we loved the public areas. Absolutely fascinating. You will not be disappointed here! Once again, I would like to point out everywhere was crowded! Other cruise lines will design their ships to feel less crowded.
We went to the spa which was very professional. My wife and I each did an individual treatment and then a couples treatment together. My only complaint was that the couples treatment was suppose to last 2 hours but it was about half that.
The night club was amazing! it will blow you away! My biggest complaint here, the DJ did not play variety. It was always gangster rap and hip hop. There was no top 40 or a mix of anything to please everyone. I don't hate rap or hip hop but when you listen to the same songs every night you really want a change. We asked the DJ to mix it up a couple nights and he told us he wouldn't. He said that most americans our age listen to rap and hip hop so that was all he would play...wow that was a shock!
The pool areas were nice but impossible to find a chair. As I said before, Royal Caribbean has crowded ships. What irritated me most was that I only noticed on 2 days that they had live music. Almost every day they put on a cd of you guessed it, rap or hip hop. It was quite bothersome as there was no mixing of genres to please all age groups, and it was far too loud. It was not remotely relaxing to lay in the sun and I remember having to yell at my wife next to me to have a conversation. Other cruise lines will have as much live music as possible in a populated area of the ship for not only variety but to interact with the crowd and even take requests.
The drinks on this ship were very good but also more expensive than I have seen on other ships. I did like that they occasionally had a drink special on certain days or certain bars like 2 large cans of fosters for $5. not bad.
This is my biggest problem with Royal Caribbean, they have a lot of useless stuff that looks attractive but really adds no value to the cruising experience what so ever! Examples, rock climbing wall, mini putt, skating rink, and daily activities that never took place. First, rock climbing is something that may entertain you for 5 minutes after a long wait. Once you have done it, you have done it, there is nothing more entertaining about it. Mini Putt...this is counter productive and useless. Not only is the tiny course very cheaply made and boring...trying to put on a rocking cruise ship is counter productive don't you think? The skating rink seems like a neat idea but the show was very boring, late starting by almost an hour, and the rink was very small. You could tell the skaters were good but you could tell they really struggled to stay in the tiny rink making the show look nothing but awkward and very boring like any other show. It seemed as if no thought was put into any show. Shipboard activities never happened. They were on a schedule, I went to participate, but never happened. Pool games, wine tastings...never happened. The above flashy items I spoke of may seem attractive to a cruiser but I did rock climbing, mini putt within the first hour of being on the ship and didn't go back to them. BORING
In conclusion, Royal Caribbean makes for a great eye candy experience on their large ships that will make you gaze at their common areas in awe, but, the rest of that experience is ruined by pushy crowds, rude crew, boring food, bland entertainment, loud repetitive rap music, and waiting...waiting for everything in a long long line...In my opinion the larger the ship the worse the cruising experience, worse service, worse food quality. You lose everything cruising is about on a large ship, and that is personal, customized service from a crew member who treats you like family. There is a lot of flashy stuff to attract you to cruising with them and they may advertise the most, but they are by far not the best. I find small and medium size ships offer a great balance for quality.
If food quality and variety, service, and entertainment are things you really look for on a cruise, go on a Holland America Vista Class ship which are designed for all ages and although aren't as flashy as Royal Caribbean, they still have beautiful ships and certainly cater to the people who appreciate the finer things in life. Or try another line, HAL is just my favorite but you would even have a better time with Carnival.
My closing statement, Don't get sucked into the flashiness of ship features you won't use for more than a few minutes like surfing simulator, rock climbing, mini putt, skating rink...cruise for the features that a real cruiser looks for, good food, good service, good entertainment. The Explorer of the Seas lacks all of these.