Hello everyone. We just returned yesterday from our First Royal Caribbean Cruise on Explorer of the Seas. (Western Caribbean Itinerary). I'll write my observations and helpful tips on saving money by "doing it on your own in each port" (We kept our final bill to 295.00)
When commenting on this cruise, I'm keeping in mind our past cruising experience, Celebrity Horizon, Carnival Paradise, Disney Wonder (two weeks ago for 4th of July), and now the Explorer.
The Boat Itself: Beautiful, kept clean, although I did not see that presence of people frequently disinfecting elevator buttons, handrails, like on other cruises I had been on. Disney keeps trays of free hand sanitizer packets in front of all their dining rooms, I think all cruise lines should do this. We saw two people throw up on the ship (one small child by the elevators, and another person a few days later on the deck). It must have been because they were sick because we felt very little movement on this ship (the seas were calm). I have always wanted to sail on a mega-ship, and the Explorer did not disappoint me, she is a beautifully designed ship.
The Food: Here is the only area where Royal Caribbean disappointed me, the food on this boat was terrible! The worst food on any vacation we have ever been on (land or sea). I actually lost 2 pounds on this cruise, my husband called it "the diet cruise." In terms of the lines we have been on, here is (in our opinion), a "report card" of the dining:
Celebrity A Disney A- Carnival B+ Royal Caribbean D-
When I read some reviews about this boat, I expected average to so-so food, but we couldn't believe just how bad the food was on this cruise. The Windjammer Buffet was so terrible that we ate all of our meals in the main dining room! We have never had lunch or breakfast in the main dining room on any of our other cruises, but after 2 awful meals in Windjammer, we knew we were in trouble. Here are some examples: breakfast would have hot orange juice and apple juice (it was like drinking hot cider in the mornings), awful scrambled eggs, Lunch NO variety, the same buffet meals every day, mashed potatoes every day. We would go to Johnny Rockets, which was good, but who wants to eat hamburgers every day on a cruise? Even in the dining room, you would get occasional good dishes (some of the soups were good, some salads were good, the turkey dish on the last night was good, but we never had one great meal the entire cruise.) The lobster was disgusting, it tasted like a not fully defrosted tiny lobster tail I bought in my local A&P freezer. The chicken marsala was inedible; my local Italian Deli makes one that puts the cruise one to shame. Our servers were charming, they were the only pleasure we got going to the dining room because (and this is a first for us) we never looked forward to eating in the dining room. My local diner serves food much better than this ship did. We were truly amazed at how bad the food was, it was such a disappointment. The deserts, even in the dining room the deserts were awful! We had sherbet or ice cream every night!
We talked to a lot of fellow passengers who expressed how terrible they also thought the food was. One man said, if this dining room were a restaurant at home, I'd never eat there again! Also, we cruised the week before on Disney, and the cuisine was exceptional. We did not know exactly what type of food to expect on RCCL, but we never expected such poor food on a pretty expensive cruise! (For example I paid ½ of what I did on Carnival last year when I did the exact same itinerary on the Paradise, and Carnival's food was far superior to the Explorer's). We talked to quite a few first time cruisers who said comments like "we thought the food is really good on a cruise." Others we talked to were pissed that the food was so bad considering the price they paid. A lot of people were talking about it. On my survey sheet I basically wrote that RCCL has a lot of nerve charging what they do if this is the type of food they serve.
Now we had a great time on the cruise, we loved the staff and the boat was gorgeous, but a great dining experience is something we expect on a cruise and this was the first time we ever had such awful food. I always love going to the dining room at night, but there was no joy in it this time.
Are all RCCL boats like this? What RCCL boats have better food? I'd hate to write off RCCL entirely, but I want to make sure I never have to eat like this again on a cruise.
Helpful Hints: The ice show, see it! Johnny Rockets did not charge a cover charge, just for sodas & shakes. The shakes are excellent! (Disney now gives free sodas on all their cruises. We thought this is a nice touch that hopefully catches on to all the other lines.)
We saved loads of money by doing each island on our own! Here is what you can do:
Costa Maya: Go into the shopping area, there are booths set up for various excursions. We did a 20.00 per person snorkeling by boat which was great. (1/2 the price the boat wants). You will be completely safe, the guides were wonderful and we had a great time. (The company's name starts with an O, I forget the name. There is one big booth, you will see it. You take a 3 minute cab ride to the Tequila Hotel where the guide is waiting for you. Other explorer passengers did this tour as well. It's a nice group, 12 at a time. You snorkel for an hour or so, a nice canopied boat, I highly recommend it.
Grand Cayman (free snorkeling): Take the public bus, there are loads of them (2.50 US dollars per person) to "Cemetery Reef". There is no cover charge, it's on a public access section of 7 mile beach (next to a cemetery, of course). The beach is gorgeous, and the snorkeling is great, no cover charge.
Cozumel: (free snorkeling) Take a cab (about 6.00 for your entire party) to Dzul Ha, there is no cover charge, great snorkeling.
Belize: We just did shopping this time & enjoyed the pretty empty boat. We snorkeled last year when we were on the Paradise, but there are plenty of tour operators at the town. A lot of cruise passengers used them.
By the way, I got the white tags & had no problem making our 11:40 flight. We were off the boat by 7:20 and at the airport by 8:00. We could have even been on standby for an earlier flight home, but hubby does not like to change flights.
Hope this info helps, Marina