Our family of 7 ranging in ages from 9 to 86 just returned today from the Explorer of the Seas 5 night cruise to Bermuda.
1. Embarkation: We found it quite simple. Did get a wheelchair when arriving in Bayonne for my Mom. She walks relatively well but we figured we'd do a lot of hoofing and this came in handy. Arrived via our own cars at 10:40'ish and were checked in promptly. We boarded the bus to the ship at 12:15 and were on board promptly to check out our MDR table and then to the WJ for lunch.
2. The Ship: We found the ship to be overall quite clean and well laid out. For the amount of passengers it never seemed overly packed except day 1 in WJ. We did periodically wait for elevators but never excessively so (excpet for disembarkation but more on that later). Have read reviews about rust on balcony, the need to get varnish on the wood, etc. Did we notice some of this? Yes but not terribly so and it didn't deter from us enjoying our balcony! Also read of plumbing issues. We didn't encounter any though our toilet did seem to have a little drip to it. Did run into one woman in a public restroom one evening who said her toilet was broken. Yikes! Our Mom/sister were in a balcony too (8548) and our sons were in a Promenade (8561). The PR room was nice - certainly for two teenage boys. We had no problems getting extra keys on Deck 5 - seeing technically they weren't suppose to be in the room without either Mom/Dad. We all liked our rooms and though I was worried about being too far forward we found no problem with it. Loved being so close to the elevators.
3. Entertainment: We thought it was pretty darn good. The comedians were funny - not hysterical or raunchy - but suitable enough for a variety of ages. We thought the singers were good as were the dancers. Loved the sets - very distinct and not just a bland stage. The Ice Show, which many rave about was in my opinion, just okay. Don't get me wrong, they were talented but I just wasn't that taken with it. Could have been the "last day at sea blues" and the fact that I was giving up pool time for it. My 9 year old really liked it. We also did Quest (sans the 9 year old) and laughed a lot. Wow, some people take that SO seriously and try to come prepared but the cruise director bagged them on it. (Good for him!). My sons went to Love & Marriage and said it was really funny. Saw the replays on TV and seemed typical but humorous. The music on the pool deck was good - sometimes a little repetitious and loud but nothing beats steel drums and a pina colada! Cruise Director (Chris Northery or something like that) seemed a little "smarmy" but he actually was pretty good at what he did and was a good emcee. Definetely grew on us and seemed very friendly in the halls. Seems well suited for this type of job. My hubby and eldest son both enjoyed donating money to the casino!
4. Serivce: Our cabin steward (Derek) was wonderful and friendly. He was sick our first day so we didn't meet him til day 2 but he more than made up for it. My Mom/sister had Derek too and our sons had Victor. (Also good). Our Head waiter was Romeo who is moving over to the Allure in few months. He was good as was our assistant waiter.
5. Gym/Spa: Family used the gym with no problems and thought it was good. Mom used the spa for a hair setting/blow dry and enjoyed it.
The Not So Good
1. Service: Thought service at the pool bars was SLOW and in the Viking Lounge/Dizzy's VERY VERY slow. Dizzy's was NOT busy but they were just deathly slow. The waiters at the pool bar were better than going to the bar directly.
2. Food: Truly we all thought the food was just okay. Now don't take me wrong, we ate and probably all put on weight but were never "wowed" with anything. Sadly never made it to the MDR for breakfast or lunch as we tended to get room service for breakfast (though the kids got their fill at the WJ). We ate each night in the MDR except for the night we were in Bermuda. The food in the MDR was okay but again, I didn't think it was outstanding as past cruises (many many years ago). Of the best meals I guess I'd say the Prime Rib and maybe the Lobster Tail. Best appetizer in my opinion was the Mushroom Tart and none of the desserts were overly memorable. The rolls were good but then again I'm a carb girl and was usually ravenous when first seated. We all ate in Johnny Rockets once. Nothing great and other passengers we talked to seemed to agree. Sadly never made it to Portofinos. Thought the Cafe Promenade food was pretty gross but again, there were times we certainly ate it to fill up - so in retrospect not as gross as I'm saying! I thought the pizza was just plain nasty but the 9 year old loved it.
3. Water: My complaint with water is I wish there were water stations near the pool/whirlpools. Hated flagging a pool waiter for something like that and equally hated having to get up and go to the WJ for water/lemonade. We did bring a case of water on board with no problem.
4. Disembarkation: We chose the express check out. A big goose egg for RCI on that. My gosh there was NOTHING express about it. Once you finally got to level 1 there was only 1 young girl from RCI trying to man and direct the frustrated crowds. Not sure if they just ran into a problem today or if this is typical but it was DISASTEROUS.
Lastly, we did over pack. Our entire family got dressed up for formal night which was nice but I think I panicked and packed too many other "nicer" clothes for the family. Even though the MDR says no shorts, MANY people wore them. Our sons did 2x but at least with collared shirts and closed shoes. While some people probably pushed the envelope in terms of what was acceptable for dining room attire, the lion's share seemed to be dressed appropriately. As a comedian said one night "Just because it comes in your size doesn't mean you should wear it." That was indeed applicable to a few cruisers and what they chose to wear in the MDR.
Overall however our experience was good. I would recommend this ship to others. Would I sail it again? That I am not sure of. I'd probably do RCI again though am tempted to try NCL out of Boston. Definetely want to see more of Bermuda and spend another day at Horseshoe Beach.