This is my first review and I have done the best I can to provide an "apples to apples" comparison between the two lines. Our first cruise was Carnival Victory in March of 2011; our second was Royal's Explorer of the Seas.
Let me first start off by saying that our cruise got off to a rocky start. The cruise immediately preceding ours was delayed due to a medical emergency so we were shorted by one day and subsequently missed one port. We left from (Cape Liberty) Bayonne, NJ in January, we were happy to get away from the snow and cold weather so any vacation was welcomed.
From the second we stepped aboard Explorer of the Seas we could see that even though the ship was a few years old it was still well maintained and clean. The staff was very helpful in helping us find our way around and suggested some things to do while we waited for our stateroom to be prepared. We grabbed a quick drink at the Champagne Bar and studied the ship's map to get our bearings. Right around 5pm we practiced our muster drill. With many older folks this took a little longer than usual. Once the drill was completed we went to our stateroom to unpack.
The first thing we noticed was the amount of older passengers; my wife and I are 30 and 25 respectively. We came to find out that during the winter, especially in January, the average age for passengers is 50-60. We were not bothered by this except for the fact that the elevators were always full. Our trip on Carnival was populated with families and many children. We don't have children of our own and haven't developed the patience for children yet so right away we were happy to see fewer children onboard Explorer of the Seas.
Our stateroom was a Promenade View which was unavailable on Carnival's Victory. We selected this room due to our budget restrictions but still wanted to have a window. The view was of the Royal Promenade which is a fixture on Royal's ships; it houses bars, shops and is the main thoroughfare of the ship. The bed was two adjacent twins that made up one large king sized bed. It took up most of the room but still allowed for a small seating area and a make-up desk for my wife. The bed on Carnival was also two twins but they couldn't get the two to line up properly and the height of each bed was different which made very difficult to sleep comfortably. Royal has solved this issue by using a pad or "crease" filler to provide comfort when they put the beds together, it worked well and the whole bed was very comfortable. It was very interesting that the foot of the bed was rounded and only allowed for 12 inches between the wall and the foot of the bed, this may be used to accommodate taller guests but it was a minor inconvenience for us. The closets were similar for both ships and adequate enough to accommodate our ten days worth of clothes. We appreciated the availability of the promenade room on RC as it was a nice step up from the interior stateroom with only a minor jump in price; I highly recommend this room for couples looking for nice accommodations on a small budget.
With 5 total days at sea we hoped there was enough to keep us occupied. We were on our Honeymoon but we still needed things to do when we "came up for air". There were many activities available on RC, more than Carnival. We were happy to visit the Jacuzzi, sleep in and visit the Windjammer cafe during the first two days at sea. There was a golf simulator, rock climbing wall, open sports and even a small theater where they played newly released movies. Carnival did not have nearly as many activities and 5 days at seas would have driven us both nuts. My only complaint was that the shows for late seating dinner were usually between 5-7pm. We aren't fond of the matinee so we never attended any of the shows. After dinner, entertainment is a bit light; only 3 night's shows were later in the evening. Most after-dinner entertainment is live music and dancing in the different bars or karaoke. We participated in the "Love & Marriage" game show and became semi-celebrities immediately afterwards.
Food is very important to me and I was left wanting after most dinners. Breakfast and lunch on RC were mainly eaten in the Windjammer Cafe which is a typical buffet. The selection for both meals was excellent; eggs, sausage, pancakes, biscuits & gravy for breakfast and hamburgers, pasta, fresh salads, or even Asian fare for lunch. For $4.95 a person we ate at Johnny Rockets twice, as soon as we sat down they served up the first unlimited bowl of fries and onion rings. We followed up the appetizers with a burger and chicken sandwich and washed it all down with chocolate milkshakes. Carnival's buffet was not as diverse and seemed to cater to families with children; chicken fingers, burgers and pasta was standard. Dinner was the exact opposite. I felt Carnival's sit-down meals were better prepared and had much more flavor. The desserts were amazing. I was disappointed in RC's sit-down meals except for the Surf & Turf. Some meals such as the chicken breasts, pasta and steaks felt as if they had been microwaved and placed under a warming lamp until they were served. The Chef's choices were better but still didn't meet my expectations. It was hit or miss with appetizers, some were flavorful others seemed mass produced. Desserts were also sub-par compared to what I experienced on Carnival. Cakes and brownies were dry, cheesecakes were flavorless even the chocolate lava cake was disappointing; I equate them to frozen desserts found in the grocery store. There was not a single time in the day where I could not find something to eat; the Promenade Cafe had decent pizza, cookies, and sandwiches all hours of the day. Ben & Jerry's ice cream was also available, for a fee, but it was a nice after dinner treat.
Phenomenal! The general staff was always friendly and helpful. Our waiter and assistant waiter Edmund & Wes were fantastic, they remembered our names and were very concerned with how we were enjoying our meals and our overall cruise. Edmund suggested meals every night and was eager to get me something different if I didn't enjoy the meal I ordered. By the end of the trip, our whole table was ordering multiple appetizers and main meals. Our stateroom attendant, Janelle, always said Hi to us when she saw us in the hallway and remembered our names, too. Our bed was always done up when we returned after dinner, we had plenty of towels and most importantly, when the "do not disturb" sign was on the door...we weren't disturbed (the same couldn't be said for Carnival). The staff on Carnival was very friendly but just didn't have the same personal attention as RC. Remembering someone's name can go a long way.
Carnival dropped the ball on this bit, not much was explained the day before and we were confused as to what time we had to be out of our room and off the ship. I still remember the Cruise Directors voice blaring at 6am eschewing orders on where to go and our stateroom attendant nearly shoving us out the door by 8:30am. RC did it right although there is still room for improvement. There was a lot of info provided on our last day; in the newsletter, over the intercom and on the stateroom TV. We knew where we had to go, what time to close out our seapass cards and what time we were supposed to be ready to go. We assumed that since we were not scheduled until 10am to be off the ship that we could sleep a little later, this was not the case. The extra stateroom staff was checking the mini-bar while we were still getting dressed at 8:30. The debarkation off the ship was a bit slow too; I felt it was due to the older slower folks and their walkers and wheel chairs.
We enjoyed our experience on Royal Caribbean more than our first cruise on Carnival. Although the food wasn't what I thought it should be, my wife didn't mind it at all and I never went hungry. From the activities, to the entertainment and the food & drink choices I would highly recommend Royal Caribbean's Explorer of the Seas.