We traveled with our 4 children ages 18, 15, 9 and 6. We chose the Explorer as we wanted to be able to drive to port and it was the closest ship to us that offered so many different things for each of our children's age groups. We originally had 2 balcony rooms booked, but a few weeks before were able to upgrade to the Royal Family Suite for very little extra.
Embarkation: was relatively painless, but very slow. We had a friend drive us to port and drop us off and our van was unloaded and luggage taken away quickly. The line for suite guests was short but it seemed to take a very long time to get us to a person, and she was very slow and not pleasant. The person taking pictures threw an absolute nasty fit that I had punched holes in the bottom of our cards for lanyards while we were waiting in line for pictures, and said the adults would not be able to drink and the kids would have a hard time using their cards to punch in and out, yet we never had a problem.
Ship: It was very clean, including public bathrooms and we saw them touching up paint a few times in port. We never saw trash building up, and tables in Windjammer were cleaned up quickly.
Stateroom: We loved our Royal Family Suite. Plenty of room for the 6 of us with 2 bedrooms and 2 bathrooms and living room area. We had all 4 kids in the interior type room, although we could have used the sleeper sofa as well. The beds were all comfortable and there was a TON of storage space with the walk in closet, 3 double closets in the master room and closet in the interior room. We adored our oversized aft balcony and spent a lot of time out there. We even hung a hammock which was so relaxing. The carpet definately needed replacing but that was really the only wear and tear we saw.
Service: Our room steward, Owelli, was the hardest working, most pleasant and always smiling person we saw all week. He spoiled our kids rotten, took care of the few things we asked for (extra blankets, bed rails) quickly and without complaint and once he found out how much we used our balcony, went out of his way to keep it clean. Our waiters were Jackson and Jaime, and were also amazing. They handled my food allergies and DD's gluten free meals with ease and care, going out of their way to bring extra desserts when there was an option available. Everyone we saw said "Hi" in some way everytime. So much so that even my teens commented on how friendly everyone was. The cruise director Jimmy was very visible everywhere and his morning show on TV was so funny. We also saw the captain a few times and he went out of his way to speak to us, and even stopped to comment on my 18 year olds basketball tshirt - even challenging him to a dunking contest :-)
Dining: The food was okay. None of us were disappointed and didn't starve, but we were not wowed by anything. I had plenty of options in both the Windjammer and MDR with my multiple food allergies. My teens lived at Cafe Promenade. We ordered from the suite full dining room service menu for dinners on the balcony often. The little kids loved the free ice cream by the pool, however DD and I would have to go into Windjammer to grab a bowl and spoon and then back out for ice cream since we cannot have the cones.
Suite Perks: We were very happy with all the extras our suite allowed us. We used the MDR room service menu often. Concierge was Carlos and he was readily available and very friendly and helpful. He made sure we were invited to the suite/Diamond etc skate show, and the kids were invited to a suite guests only open rink at the ice rink. He also arranged a bridge tour. The waiters in the concierge lounge had a margarita ready for my husband every evening before dinner. We enjoyed having special seating at the pool and the attendant always made sure to help us find chairs. There was a plate of goodies delivered to our stateroom each night before dinner. The best perk of all is the seating at Portofinos during breakfast and lunch. No fighting for seats in the Windjammer which can become very crowded. Second best: no checking out pool towels and returning them.
Kids Activities: We rarely saw our teens. Our 15 year old was always on the sports court, in the teen club or at teen activites. He really enjoyed the scavenger hunts and made friends with a large group of kids. There were not a lot of organized activites for our 18 year old, so he spent his time on the sports court. Our younger kids loved the kids clubs. Our youngest (age 6) had a great time and they seemed to do more outside activities than the older group. They did a "circus" and "pirate parade" in the Royal Promenade which were very cute and our son loved and went to Optix to dance one day. No one ever complained of being bored and we made use of every activity, like mini golf, inline skating, rock climbing, ice skating, the kids pool area etc.
Shows: We did not go to any of the shows. We had late seating in the MDR and it just didn't seem to work out with timing for our family. It was nice to be able to watch them on TV in bed the next night though :)
Our biggest disappointment was at Portofinos. The service was terrible and it wasn't just us as many people in our roll call had the same issue. I had listed my allergies on our reservation, confirmed them with the maitre d' upon boarding, and reconfirmed them with our waiter. All 3 times I was told there would not be a problem. When I ordered, the waiter made a big deal of someone having to go get rice pasta from Windjammer (right next door) and how busy they were. I ordered the risotto instead to make it easy on everyone which had tomatoes, which I'm allergic to. We never saw our waiter after that so I did eat a little and was sick. This was our anniversary and me leaving before dessert was not a great way to spend it.
Ports: Bermuda. Husband and teens went parasailing with KS Watersports. They had a great time and the in the air time was more than they expected. We were told an hour on the boat and it did run a little long, so they didn't make it back in time for us to take a quick trip to Horseshoe Bay. The little kids and I did the Ultimate Dolphin Adventure at Dolphin Quest. Well worth every single penny. We spent over an hour in the water with the dolphins and the kids got to see them from every angle, learned so much about them and their care and conservation. It was a great experience.
St Maarten: We took a private tour with Bernards. We weren't happy with our driver and the van was really really hot, but we got to see a ton. The kids enjoyed Maho so much that we wish we would have stayed longer there. They loved the planes and the water was so clear. Orient was crowded, loud and the water was choppy and 'dirty' with churned sand and seaweed. Plus we did see multiple totally nude people walking around. My kids ignored them, but we didn't see anything like that at Maho.
St Thomas: Took a private tour with Papa Bear, who is by far the best island tour guide we've ever had. This is our second tour with him. He loves his island, knows where to go and caters his tours to his passengers. We shopped a little, did an island tour and then spent the afternoon at Coki Beach. The kids loved feeding the fish there.
Puerto Rico: Husband and teens did the zipline tour. They had a ball. The little kids and I did a horse and carriage ride and then walked El Morro. We hated that we had such limited time in Puerto Rico. 7a-1pm doesn't give you much time to explore or venture far from port.
We had such a great experience that we would not hesitate to cruise the Explorer again, with or without our kids.