I'll preface my review by saying that I read a number of reviews about the Explorer of the Seas; some good, some bad, some in between. I tried to keep an open mind while on the ship, but at the same time keeping the advice of others in mind. I was traveling with my parents, brother and his family and sister and her family. There were 13 of us in all.
Embarkation: After reading about the infamous tent in several reviews, I was pleasantly surprised when we arrived. The tent, in my opinion, is better categorized as a large awning over the entrance way to shade those waiting on line to get in the building to check in and those waiting for their cars outside. Yes, the security area is clearly too small, which results in lines. Overall, though, as someone who travels a great deal by air for business, I was happy with the speed that we got through security (if only the TSA was so efficient!).
The check-in itself was relatively fast. My only criticism was that we were handed health certification forms as we approached the head of the line. This meant digging in our bags for a pen to fill it out. I'd have appreciated getting this with our check-in documents.
Yes, the buses to the ship are an annoyance, but with the Explorer being the only ship leaving out of Cape Liberty, I wouldn't expect any major renovations in the near future.
There was the typical chaos boarding and waiting for the elevators. Having crew directing people on the same deck to dedicated elevators would have helped.
Stateroom: This was my third cruise. the first was in a tiny interior state room on the old Norwegian Norway (1994). It was my first cruise and I went with a singles tour and didn't know better. I booked a balcony on my second cruise with Carnival (2002)and found I was rarely in the room. This time I booked the Promenade interior stateroom on deck 8 overlooking the Royal Promenade. I was a bit worried about noise, but the windows were double paned and insulated. Never heard a thing. Overall, the stateroom was nice. But, as others noted, the ship is 10 years old and beginning to show its age. While it was kept immaculate by my lovely steward, Dawn, you could clearly see that the ship is in need of a revitalization. Like I said, I travel a great deal for business and I have to say that the bed linens were among the best I've seen in any hotel.
Windjammer: Many people have said they had trouble finding tables in the Windjammer Cage. We didn't have any trouble throughout the cruise, though the 13 of us typically only ate together at dinner.
The food in the Windjammer was ok. There were various selections that were outstanding, some that were terrible and most pretty decent.
Main Dining Room: Ok, here is where things fell apart. Prior to sailing, my brother in law checked on our table. With a party of 13, we assumed we would have two tables next to each other and planned to rotate each night to mix it up. We were pleasantly surprised to find out we had a single table. Unfortunately, it was at the entrance to the Magellan dining room and, even though there was a clear path around our table and the one next too us, people insisted on pushing their way between the two tables knocking into the people seated at both tables(the tables were set parallel to each other like this II).
The real problem, however, was the service, or lack of it. The waiter only introduced himself to some of the group. The barman literally walked away as my brother was giving him our drink orders. The last to arrive received their food before the first to arrive and we didn't get anything to drink for 45 minutes - well in to our main courses. To add insult to an already bad situation, by brother had to show the kids' soda cards to four different people before they could get a soda.
My brother and brother in law spoke to the dining room manager and we were moved the next night. It was a makeshift table to accommodate all of us, but the service from that point on was impeccable. Our waiter, Aniket, was great.
Like the Windjammer, the food was hit or miss. Definitely better than the Windjammer, but still off the mark at times. I knew about the surcharge for the filets, but still found it to be unacceptable.
The activities and shows on board were great. The cruise director and activities staff put together great shows and contests at the pool almost every day. The ice show is not to be missed. I still can't believe that they could put on such a professional production on a small rink on a ship at sea! And, their version of the Newlywed Game was really fun.
I didn't particularly care for the "big production" show called Fast Forward, but that's more a matter of taste.
I did have one issue with the entertainment. we spent the first day at sea a the pool. When the band wasn't performing, they played music over the loudspeakers. I was shocked when I heard a song with very vulgar language. I had to ask my sister if I was hearing things and she was shocked to hear the lyrics repeated. We were traveling with kids, so this was distressing, but I personally found the language to be offensive. I complained to the activities person on deck. He didn't seem to know what to do but said he would take care of it. During the course of the 10 days, I complained three times and the songs continued to be played. Only after I placed a card in the "shout out" box for the cruise director's morning show did anyone acknowledge the problem. He and the activities director promised to go through the 500 song play list to find and remove the offensive songs. Frankly, I don't know how such the crew's response. I work in Manhattan and have to hear that kind of language on the streets and subways every day. I don't want to hear it on my vacation and certainly not at the family pool!
Dress Codes: I really over packed for this trip. It seems that the only dress code that was enforced was the "no bathing suits" and "shirts and shoes required" in the Windjammer. Even on formal nights, people showed up in the main dining room in shorts and were seated. Either have the dress code and enforce it, or drop it all together.
Spa: I booked three massages at the spa, but canceled one. I prefer a male therapist, because they are stronger. The Explorer only has female therapists, so I took a chance. The massages were relaxing, but not the intense therapeutic massage I'm used to. The pricing wasn't as bad as I expected. Like everything else, they were more than on shore and I for what I paid for a 55 minute massage I usually pay for a 90 minute session.
Health: One last note on the dining rooms. As someone stated, there were hand sanitizers at the entrance to all of the eateries and, unlike some peoples' experiences, the staff did direct everyone to use them before entering. I really appreciated this given the number of people I saw picking things up off the buffets with their hands, even when a pair of tongs was right there.
Disembarkation: Disembarkation was very organized. There was some confusion though. The instructions aired over the TV said not to go to your disembarkation station early, yet the cabin stewards were trying to get people out of their rooms as quick as possible to get them ready for the next sailing. Completely understandable, but housekeeping and the rest of the crew should be on the same page.
Overall, this was a great cruise. It was a fantastic family vacation and we all had a great time. Would all cruise together again? Absolutely! Would it be on the Explorer of the Seas? Not so sure. Maybe if it were revitalized and stopped nickle and diming guests for upgraded steaks and fresh squeezed orange juice ($2.50) at breakfast.