I took this cruise with my spouse Terrance, my mother and my aunt. I'll start with embarkation day. It was flawless. We drove up from southern New Jersey and arrived at Cape Liberty about 11:45am. We had planned to arrive a little later, but there were no problems on our drive up. AT the port we did NOT encounter the lines of traffic that so many people have talked about. We drove into the luggage drop off area where a porter helped unload our luggage and I went to park the car. When I got back in the terminal my aunt was already in a wheelchair (she sprained her ankle earlier in the week) and a Royal Caribbean employee took us through the check in process. It was a breeze. The short bus ride to the ship was no big deal either. I would say the whole process took about 30-45 minutes.
The Explorer is a beautiful ship and it is in excellent condition. The halls, dining rooms, lounges, stairways are extremely clean and well maintained.
STATEROOM: We were on deck seven in a promenade stateroom and WOW what a great idea to have the bay window onto the promenade, it was fun watching our fellow cruisers and we felt like part of the excitement even when we where lounging in the room. Storage was not a problem for us, there was plenty of room for our clothes, and our five empty suitcases all fit under the bed. Yes, we packed too much. The bathroom is small, but it is laid out very well and the lighting is excellent. The shower is small too, but I'm 6'6" tall and 235lbs and had no problem maneuvering in either the room itself or the bathroom. The beds are very comfortable and the comforters and pillows have a luxurious hotel look to them. Nice as it was, Royal has nothing on Carnival. The stateroom and public areas on Conquest were every bit as nice and well maintained.
DINING/FOOD: First let me tell you about the good. Roomservice was superb. They were fast, efficient, AWESOME! The Promenade cafe was EXCELLENT!. It was open 24 hours a day and served the tastiest sandwiches, pizza and desserts. The staff there were the most friendly and efficient on the entire ship. The Windjammer cafe served excellent food. I couldn't complain about anything. The sushi was a nice surprise and I didn't expect to see that at the buffet. The staff here were wonderful, We wouldn't be seated for a minute and a server would be there asking if I wanted a drink or to clear the table when we were finished. The main dining room was another story. Suffice it to say that service was dreadful. The food wasn't bad, but it was never quite hot enough. The wait staff just couldn't get it together. If you forgot to ask for a drink, forget it you would wait 30 minutes for a beverage. Same for cocktails and wine - they really push it everywhere else on the ship, but if you forget to order something right away too bad, you wait. Even after we spoke to the head waiter, it didn't make much difference. I was really disappointed and we ended up eating in the main dining room 3 out of 9 nights. I saved the worst for last. Portofino was a major disappointment. I felt duped because I paid extra for a meal that wasn't nearly as good as the food at the Windjammer buffet. I'm not exaggerating either. My spouse and I both ordered the seafood skewers and they were overcooked and dried out. We also had soup which was just okay and I couldn't believe that this "fine dining experience" included bottled caesar salad dressing. Mind you, I don't live in the lap of luxury, but I expected more since friends and some cruise critic members say how superior service and food is on Royal compared to Carnival. Guess what folks? It's not true... I'm not saying Royal isn't good. It's just not as good as Carnival. The specialty restaurant on Carnival Conquest was nothing short of luxurious. Great lighting and they didn't try to cram in as many tables as possible like
they did at Portofino on the Explorer. Also, they had a real sommelier at Conquests specialty restaurant, who took extra time to help pick just the right wine to go with the different courses you had selected. The Conquest also gave you a choice of menus. You could choose a french menu or an Italian menu. During the meal on Conquest the chef would send out small bites from the kitchen for you to try that weren't even part of the meal, it was so special. I also have to say that on Conquest, in the main dining room we asked for a pitcher of ice water to be placed on the table the first night, and every night as soon as we arrived at the table that water was there. Same for our iced teas, every night, there before we could ask. Food? always hot. The wait staff seemed to always be right there for you. All you had to do was look up and they were asking if you needed anything. I am dumbfounded by the lack of service in the Explorers main dining room. We did speak to the head waiter, but he can't be everywhere and it didn't really didn't help.
Service everywhere else on Explorer was excellent, but no better than service on Carnival Conquest.
ENTERTAINMENT: Entertainment on the explorer was by far better than Carnival Conquest. The ice skating show was terrific. Who would guess that there would be skaters with that much talent on a cruise ship? We saw singing, dancing...etc. and all were very good. Caribbean force played outside at the pool and they were wonderful.
Again, I had a great cruise and although I feel the food/service was not good in the dining room and Portofino, that was a very small part of our cruise. I also realize that service can vary from ship to ship and even different sailing dates on the same ship can be quite different experiences.
So, We already put a deposit on our next cruise. RCCL 12 night mediterranean cruise on Brilliance of the Seas.
Almost forgot... Pay attention to the artwork. The Explorer is full of original paintings, sculpture, and photos and we enjoyed them immensely.
Disembarkation: A long process, but went very well with no problems.