About us: Group of 2 couples(40s) plus in-laws and 2 nephews (< 6 years).
All of us had cruised before on the Carnival Miracle a few years ago and, although we enjoyed it - especially the food!, we wanted to go for a bigger ship with more activities etc on board. My wife and I had also sailed with the Explorer about 4 years ago and had fond memories of that cruise as well. So it was no big effort to convince everyone else to try RCL and the Explorer leaving out of Cape Liberty. We are all from the area and lack of flying appealed to us. Besides, we heard nothing but great things about Bermuda.
Embarkation: fantastic! Couldnt be better! We all drove to the port and offloaded and parked in the long term parking they have there at the ship. ($19 a day, ouch! - about the same as if we had to catch a cab, I guess). We checked it, seapass card in hand, we were on board within 15 minutes. Sweet! Headed to the Windjammer with all the other lemmings for lunch.
The ship was in good condition. I looked for wear and tear but found nothing noticeable.
Windjammer: Clean. Spacious. Even on busy days, we never felt too crowded in. The food? Eh! Usual diner stuff, I guess. We ate there for breakfast and one time for dinner when we arrived back from excursion too late for MDR seating. The breakfast was real tonnage-type food! (myspeak for mass-produced pile-it-high-on-your-place type of buffet food.) Lots of oil abound! The omelettes were made to order and were very good. Our group agreed that the drinks/juices were very watered down and became more evident by the end of the trip. ran out of mixture? The indian food on offer was bland and poorly prepared. The Chicken Tikka Masala was the worst I have ever seen. Other than that, the Windjammer was what we expected - nothing to write home about but acceptable.
MDR: Okay, I love food! Big part of my cruise and past cruises was the enjoyable experience in partaking of the dining experience. I savored every morsael on my dining experience on the Carnival Miracle. I have fond memories of the wait staff encouraging me to have more than one appetizer or entree because I remarked how much I enjoyed the food. I remember on the Miracle having 3 orders of the garlic Escargot appetizer - which is my favorite appetizer of all time. Hmmm! makes my mouth water at the though of it! Well, our whole group was disappointed in the RCL MDR food experience, regrettably. The food was bland and totally unmemorable. My sis-in-law, who is not a fussy eater, remarked that the words on the menu conjured up images of a meal completely different to reality and she was left unfulfilled. As for my garlic escargots, I ordered two initially and, when they arrived, they were cool to lukewarm at best. This is because they serve it in a tin-bowl instead of those ceramic bowls with the 6 holes. The former does not keep them sizzling hot. RCL's version was tasteless too. The Tiger King Prawns looked like baby cubs. The meats were tough. Portions are small (Hint: teenagers shouls order 2 entrees lest they go starvinga). Bottom line/ Major disappointment!
We also purchased the cheapest wine package at $155 for 5 bottles of wine (markup was pretty huge here - wines couldnt be more than $12 retail.)
Stateroom: My wife and I had the Promenade on the 8th deck. In hindsight, I think it would have been better to purchase a promenade on the 6th or 7th floor as watching the parade from the 8th floor was too high up. Attendant and rooms were more than acceptable.
Shows: top notch. We enjoyed the shows put on. The Ice skating show is a feast for the eyes. Do no miss this one. Remember to get your tickets for the show you want (although the never did check when you went to the show - hmm). Love and Marriage show was a hoot! Fast Forward, signature dance show was great too. The cruise director, Chris Northey, was very good and did a fine and commendable job. His efforts were really appreciated by our group. Cant go wrong having him as a CD.
Pools: We lounged around the brat-free, er, adults solarium section a few times and read in the basking sun. Brother and sister in-laws said that their kids complained about how cold the water in the kiddies section at the back of the ship was - could be due to it being constantly in the shade most of the time. I did spend time with my nephews at the main pool and jacuzzi. It was crowded but not too uncomfortable. Overall the crowds were pleasant and everyone looked liked they were enjoying themselves.
Consierge Club: In the evenings, my Br-in-law and I would smoke a fine cigar in the concierge club next to the Maharaja Lounge. thank god they havent dispensed with this fine room. It has the ambiance of a rustic library with comfortable sofas. We would enjoy a quiet stogie with a glass of Port from rum-runners we smuggled in (Hey, no way I am paying over $10 for a small shot of Port - but I digress...). Word of warning. Bring your own stogies as the selection they sell are true dog rockets!
Casino: Ever since I discovered Poker all those years ago - I avoid all other types of gambling - be it slots, craps or roulette. I just stick to poker. Luckily, as expected, the cast of characters around the poker tables were classic donks (poker-speak for bad players). I ended up cashing at the end of the trip to pay for all excursions/expenses and then some!)
Photos: Bought a couple. We have some from prior trips so no need to spend $19.95 on additional pics.
Other: Cafe Promenade serves the best 24 hour pizza bar-none!
Buy your Duty-free the day before debarkation. They will allow you to keep it and take it away. Thus you can use it the whole day for your drinking pleasure anywhere.
Bottom line: Overall, our group were satisfied with our trip onboard the Explorer. Nevertheless, it was a little tainted by the sub-par quality of the MDR food - but it was not an enjoyment dealbreaker. Will we choose RCL again? Maybe... but RCL is no longer a must-do as it once was perceived.
Right now, we are leaning back to trying out the new Carnival Magic ship when we do our next and first Meditteranean cruise in a couple of years.