I really wanted to leave a review here to offer my thoughts on this ship after reading some of the negative reviews.
Prior to going on the trip, I had seen lots of reviews giving really harsh opinions of the ship looking really tired or of the food being awful or the service slow etc... Honestly, I have no idea if these people were sailing on this ship or if there is one with a similar name that they are getting mixed up with?! Or alternatively what sort of expectations these people have created for themselves!
We chose the cruise based on the itinerary and the deal that Royal Caribbean were offering at the time (drinks package and onboard spend).
We boarded relatively swiftly and soon discovered that this was both a mammoth ship and quite a magnificent city on water!
We've cruised with Royal before and also NCL and Princess. I'd say the ship was somewhat of a hybrid of the two.
Overall the ship was looking great and flowed really well - only on the odd occasion did we really feel that the ship was busy, which was at a couple of times in the buffet, particularly in the buffet for breakfast when the port call was shorter.
All of the areas of the ship were smart, clean and in good repair - the promenade, whilst not to everyone's taste it seems was a hive of activity all the way through the cruise.
The food was imaginative and plentiful to say the least - we ate really well... I'd say not quite as well presented or of quite the quality on offer by princess, but then this was price reflective also. My only criticism would be that they could offer some stronger and more imaginative vegetarian and vegan offerings - meat eaters definitely got a better deal here, but there were still lots of options and alternatives.
The only significant let down was Jonny Rockets really. I really think Royal Caribbean should make this a complimentary eating spot. Every other line we've been on has an outdoor burger grill that is complimentary and whist the offering is marginally better, it really felt like we'd thrown $9.95 per person away, as the burgers in the buffet, just one deck down were almost the same, as were the fries etc. The absence of a burger bar on the pool deck compared to the other lines was noticeable on fine sea days, which seems a shame and a bit of a cash cow - I really wouldn't bother and I doubt we'll bother again. Jonny Rockets was notably quiet whenever we looked in... maybe people are catching on?
The stateroom was smart and pretty sizeable. We had an inside and parents had a balcony - both were nice. Beds were comfy and decent storage space for a 2 week cruise. The shower gel was nice and the sheets and towels always clean, fresh and had a nice feel to them.
The activity and options for things to do were quite simply never ending, there was always a plethora of activities and things on offer to do.
The entertainment was variable. We saw some BRILLIANT shows and entertainers and some entertainment which seemed below par, unfortunately the Royal Caribbean post cruise survey didn't really give the opportunity to differentiate.
As other have said, the ice show is brilliant! GO AND SEE IT!!!
Shows in the theatre varied a lot... We had a bit of a random singer spell during the two weeks, where we had like three solo singer nights in a row and by the third, we seemed to be suffering singer fatigue! The Royal Caribbean production shows were usual cruise fayre really... singers and dancers singing and dancing to music that is no longer in copyright etc etc... they were so so, but ok to pass an evening with.
The promenade parties were a lot of fun, the 80's one and the 70's one were really well polished, well attended and lots of atmosphere - Rock Britannia, seemed a bit flat - but still a good laugh. Be nice if it was a few decibels louder to really rock the ship.
One entertainer that deserves an extra special mention was Perry Grant... oh my goodness, this guy was the most entertaining guy I have ever seen on a cruise ship anywhere... he rightfully gets rave reviews again and again - I won't say too much, but if he is still on when you sail - spend some time with his show in the schooner bar, you will laugh, sing and make friends!
The service was consistently brilliant. Super polite, fast, efficient etc. One of the things that I really liked was that the staff always said how much Royal Caribbean had looked after them - this is a really big deal to me and it would influence me to holiday with them again.
In terms of the ports of call, they are pretty personal, so I won't review them, but we chose the Baltic's and thoroughly enjoyed them!
Explorer is a remarkable ship with a remarkable crew - I would definitely recommend it!