Let me begin by saying that getting to and from Cape Liberty was a piece of cake. We arrived the night before and stayed about 20 minutes from the Pier. On the day of departure we arrived, dropped our bags at the terminal, parked the car and checked in. Check in took a matter of minutes and we waited for about 30 minutes to be let on board.
Our stateroom was wonderful with plenty of room for 4 children and 2 adults. This was our first experience in an oceanview and we were pleasantly surprised at how comfortable we were. The Family Oceanview rooms are over-sized with plenty of walking room when the couch is turned into a bed. The small bunk bed room was perfect for our older two children. There was plenty of storage and we had no issue storing 8 suitcases under the beds.
Our stateroom attendant, Alex, was wonderful. He went above and beyond on more than on occasion. Beds were comfortable although the pillows weren't the best. I probably should have asked for new ones but I never remembered until we were ready for bed and Alex was gone.
Looking out the two port hole windows we saw the helicopter landing pad which by day was an area with benches for passengers to sit. Because it was windy there weren't too many visitors to that area but we had to be mindful when dressing as you could see in. At night the curtains had to remain closed when the lights were on (no big deal as there was only darkness to see).
Promenade was neat. Cafe was the closest spot for us to get snacks/drinks. Stores were OK although they didn't have as much variety as I guess I expected. End of cruise sales and market place buffet brought a zillion people on the last day but other than that it was a never overly packed and you could always find a place to sit. The Christmas tree went up by the Cafe a few days before Thanksgiving which was fun for the kids.
Kids club were a bust for us. With over 800 kids on board they were way too packed and there wasn't enough structure in the 6-8 year group so the kids were running amuck and it was too much for our two 8 year olds (there had to have been 40-50 kids in their small room). Our pre teen lasted one session in the 9-11 year group because it was "play this or watch". There were so many kids he was overwhelmed and just wanted to sit and play a game but that wasn't an option. Instead of listing activities by morning, afternoon, evening session they would be better served by having structured activities by time slot like Carnival does and then having a 2nd option for those that aren't interested in that activity. The week prior to us they had 50 kids on board and they said there was no difference in how they run the program with 50 or with 800. I think there needs to be a better plan in place when the numbers are that high. Based on that alone I won't cruise RCI over any peak period.
Since the kids were steering clear of the kids club we had to find other activities for them to do and there were plenty. Ice Skating, Mini Golf, Rock Climbing, Napkin Folding, Bingo, Swimming etc. filled up their days with no problem (and I didn't mind having them with us all the time it just would have been nice for a break here and there or to not have to drag them to a show they didn't want to go to).
Cruise Director did a great job (Chris Northey) although I think this may have been his last cruise as he said he was leaving with us. Shows were good although at least one really wasn't appropriate for kids and the listing in the Compass didn't say anything about adult only (it was a 9pm first seating show). Other shows were very good especially the Ice Show.
Ship is definitely starting to show its age. All ships have rust spots and Explorer was no exception but there were two cracked sinks in the public bathrooms that needed replacing, carpet needed fixing in our cabin, drawers showed stains, bathroom fixtures were peeling/rusted etc. The ship was very clean though.
Our waiter was Mowyn and his ass't was Rosa. Great service. Food was OK although the menu at times was very heavy with seafood. Overall they weren't as good on this ship with dealing with food allergies as they have been on other ships in the past (Royal Caribbean and Carnival).