The Broadway Show Lounge (Deck 6) holds 860 people and is designed in a classic style, meant to reflect 1920s glamour.
Marella has invested a lot of time and effort in ensuring the shows are top class, with leading English entertainment company, Ted. And there is a huge variety, most of them exploring different musical genres from soul (Soul Awards) to retro performances like Festival, a look back at music festivals of the '70s; Bud's Diner, a '60s tribute; classic rock (Rockology) and Cogs (classic '70s sounds) and movie themes. The onboard performers are great dancers, though vocal abilities vary tremendously. In peak holiday times you'll also find a short show for kids -- CSI (Cruise Ship Investigation).
There is a Cinema on Deck 6 which shows family-friendly films during the day as well as sporting fixtures and some health seminars.
There is a Gamers Lounge on Deck 8 with video games.
The entertainment crew are up on the pool deck in the central podium pretty well all day organizing pool games, activities and fun competitions. They also host the sail-away. You'll also find live music up here during the day.
The Squid & Anchor plays host to bingo, quizzes and sports fixtures every afternoon.
Shuffleboard and sports competitions take place on Deck 6 and the Sports Court (Deck 11), respectively.
The sail-away party takes place twice a cruise up on the Pool Deck. There is also a White Party once a cruise.
You'll find live music every evening in The Lounge and the Squid & Anchor.
Karaoke takes place in the Squid & Anchor at least twice a seven-day cruise.
The small casino is adjacent to the Indigo dance floor, and is part of the nightclub complex.
53 (Deck 5): Just outside Latitude 53, this small bar is conveniently placed for a pre-dinner drink.
The Lounge (Deck 6): The Lounge is a large area whose centerpiece is a bright pink grand piano on a raised stage where you can listen to live music. It's a real wow space with funky ring-shaped seats and a colour-changing feature bar.
Squid & Anchor (Deck 7): This huge bar takes up a large chunk of the back of Deck 7 and includes an outdoor smoking area. There is a very big serving area at one end, a central area for dancing and lots of seating. There is also a smaller bar called the Gin & Whisky Tasting Bar, which just serves those spirits. The "tasting" as it is, allows you to choose various gins and mixers and sample and discuss it with the bartender. You just have to book as it's included. At one end is a stage for karaoke, live bands and when the live band is not playing, a screen showing a virtual band. The screen also shows sporting events such as big football matches. You'll also find quiz nights taking place in here.
Apertif (Deck 7): More of a space than a room, this is an ideal spot for a pre- or post-dinner drink as it's just outside Kora La and Surf & Turf. There is a bar itself just outside the two restaurants and lots of seating space beside the windows all along the corridor leading to it. There is also a large raised table where wine tasting takes place.
Mediterranean Bar/Mediterranean Terrace (Deck 11): This bar serves the Mediterranean Restaurant and is both indoor and outdoor, with plenty of seating.
Pool Bar (Deck 11): The pool deck bar serving cocktails, beers and wine, or you can just grab a cold one from the buckets nearby.
The Shack (Deck 12): A deck bar (above the main pool deck), serving frozen cocktails.
Indigo Bar, Club and Casino (Deck 12): This is a huge bar slash casino slash nightclub right up on the top deck, taking up most of the front of the ship. The main bar serves up some very inventive cocktails -- G & Tea Time (gin and tonic served in a tea cup and saucer), Great Balls of Fire (a whisky served in a smoke-filled box), and Nagasaki Sour, an electric yellow drink served in a huge glass. The bar also hosts cocktail-making classes with the help of Britain's Got Talent runners-up, The Bar Wizards (who came up with the menu). It's a great spot, always buzzy, with plenty of seating all around the outside. In the centre, you'll find the dance floor with a raised stage for The Emulator, an interactive touch screen DJ deck. There is also a smaller bar here. Once a cruise you can take part (or just watch) the silent disco. And on the port (left) side is a small casino with slot machines, roulette and card tables.
There are just three pools, two main ones on the Pool Deck and a third kids-only splash pool at the aft of Deck 9. The two main pools are both saltwater and unheated. One is adults only. Both are a decent size and quite deep, with shallow sides. There are no lifeguards on duty. There are three hot tubs at one end and a central podium in the centre, where entertainment staff do their thing.
Deck space fills up quickly, with people grabbing their poolside deck chair early. This whole area is jam-packed on a sea day and when everyone is back from excursions. There is music, entertainment and live music on and off all day. Plus, the outdoor screen is here, showing movies during the day and in the evening.
On Deck 12, which overlooks the Pool Deck, you'll find more deck chair space, but note that the jogging track is here too, which is not ideal for either joggers or sunbathers.
The splash pool is just behind the kids club, but is not run by the kids club. It is a small freshwater pool with a little slide and can be used by kids under supervision only.
Recreation is a little limited for a ship this big, wth really just two spots -- a sports court and mini-golf. You'll find both on Deck 12 on the "Family Deck". The former is a basketball court, where you can also play mini-football and is also used by the M Club for organised kids activities. The latter is a seven hole putting course on the opposite side. You'll also find a ping pong table up here.
There is an adults-only sun deck on Deck 14 at the front, The Veranda, which is free. There are plenty of sun loungers with call buttons to order your drinks and it's a lot quieter up here (you can still hear the music, but it's not as loud). In addition, there are a number of couples' cabanas which you can rent for £99/day (£289 for seven days). Open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Everything you'll need in terms of services is on Deck 5 midships, and the decks directly above. Deck 5 has Reception and the Shore Excursions office. Deck 6 has Future Cruise Sales, the Photographers Gallery and the Photo Studio. Deck 7 has the Broad Street shops, where you'll find an essentials shop, a logo shop, duty free, handbags and watches.
And on Deck 8 you will find a small library, with a limited supply of books.
There are no self-service laundry rooms on Explorer, but a bag of clothes washed and folded and back the next day will set you back £14.95.
The Medical Centre is on Deck 4.
Explorer has bow to stern Wi-Fi which is fast and reasonably priced (for longer packages). 1 hour = £8; 1 day = £15; 3 days = £25; 1 week = £49; 2 weeks = £90.
Marella has teamed up with one of the UK's best-known spa brands, Champneys, to offer the first Champneys at sea. The spa and gym take up the whole of the front of Deck 11.
The spa was largely inherited from TUI Cruises, but Champneys have put their own stamp on it and, of course, given it a complete refresh. And the vast thermal suite is quite simply, one of the best at sea -- both in terms of facilities and size.
There are 13 treatment rooms, including two couples' treatment rooms, some with sea views. There is also a salon for hair, nails and beauty treatments. The lowest-priced treatments are £45 for a body exfoliation, but they are just 25 minutes long. Most of the 55-minute treatments start at £75 and will include a lava shell massage and a Thai massage. The signature £99 Marella massage comes in at 80 minutes. There's a wonderful hammam massage available for £75 for 50 minutes. (It's worth noting that what you see is what you get in terms of price, unlike most US lines where you'll get a service charge and space for an additional tip slapped on). The couples' rooms cost £389 for the day which includes four treatments or £249 for a half-day. There are two, both with floor-to-ceiling windows, a large circular couch, a private sauna and even a small balcony overlooking the bridge!
The main thermal suite has a central shower area with different types of showers (rain showers etc.), two steam rooms -- one dark, one salt; a herbal sauna; two hammam rooms, a rasul room; a dunk bucket room with ice; a relaxation room bathed in blue light and plenty of warmed, tiled seating, including basins for feet bathing. Right across the corridor is the piece de resistance -- an enormous sauna with floor-to-ceiling windows affording beautiful views. Next door is an open air relaxation room (a Champneys additions) with swinging basket chairs and a bit further along, yet another relaxation room, with loungers, waters and teas. It really is outstanding, and extraordinary value and rarely full. The only thing missing -- and it is a big miss -- is the lack of a pool of any sort, thalassotherapy or otherwise. Apparently it was too complicated to install.
The thermal suite costs £15 per day (£10 if you are having a treatment) or £77 a week.
The spa is open from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m.
The fitness centre is on the port side, accessed separately from the spa. It's a good-sized space with six bikes (three recumbent) and six treadmills. There is also a space for weights and a separate room for classes. Classes are all £7 an hour and include "jumpga", freestyle yoga and indoor cycling. Personal training, private Pilates and private yoga sessions are all £65 for 55 minutes.
There are free sessions most mornings at the gym, including a sunrise walk and a wake-up workout (consult your Cruise News).
There is a jogging track on Deck 12 (11 laps = 1 mile), but you'll have to weave between the deck chairs.
Thomson (as it then was) has a long tradition of family-friendly ships, and Explorer is no exception, with kids embraced and welcomed rather than tolerated as they are on certain other British cruise lines. However, this is a 1,924 passenger ship which can carry up to 260 kids during school holidays and the kids club holds just 32 children. The thinking is keeping families doing things together rather than spending all day apart, so there is more of an emphasis on family activities such as a disco, or sports or deck parties.
The line has recently launched M Club, with a cast of puppet characters and merchandise.
There are brand-new Family Cabins on Explorer and a large number of interconnecting cabins across all cabin categories.
There is also a dedicated Kids Food section in the Marketplace Buffet.
M Club can be found at the aft of Deck 9, in a small space consisting of one big room and an adjoining soft play area for the under-3s. There is also a small swimming pool outside, but it is not run by the M Club team.
The main room holds just 32 kids at maximum capacity, so pre-booking is essential. Kids are divided into 3 to 7 years and 8 to 12s, and there is a room divider to separate the age groups. Kids need to be potty trained to use the M Club.
You register your child at the start of the cruise and you get a free wristband and lanyard, and you can book your sessions at this point. It is not 100 percent clear (the club had just opened when we sailed) how this will work in terms of will it be first come, first-served, and how many sessions will be allocated per family.
Opening hours vary depending on sea and port days, but they are generally as follows: 10 a.m. to noon; 2 to 4 p.m. and 6 to 8 p.m. (Check Cruise News for variations on these times). Note there are no escorted kids' meals nor are there any late-night activities.
The programme is designed for those two age groups, with age appropriate activities such as arts and crafts, storytelling, ship exploration and theme days such as pirates and knights. There are plenty of facilities in the room like large TVs screens for movie night and gaming; board games (which can be borrowed); books and DVDs. Outside of the room itself, the M Club crew also take the kids to the cinema, where they can watch movies about the M Crew characters, and regular movies; the Sports Court and to deck parties and the sail-away on the Pool Deck. There are also character breakfasts and photo shoots with the M Crew characters.
For the under-3s the soft play room is a stay-and-play facility open from 9 to 10 a.m. for supervised activities. There are no babysitting options either in-cabin or after hours in a group. The minimum sail age is 6 months (1 year for the transatlantic). There are a limited supply of nappies onboard, formula milk and three push chairs available on a first come basis at Reception.
Kids need to be potty trained to use water play areas and pools and attend drop-off kids programming.
Teens get their own room the Hideout, which is high up on Deck 14. It is open from 9 a.m. to midnight, and is lightly supervised. The Hideout has a raised area for watching movies, beanbags, air hockey, VR headsets and a late-night disco. Programme activities might include quizzes, an awards ceremony and theme games. The M Crew team might also run crazy golf tournaments and various sports at the Sports Court, such as basketball and tag rugby. You'll also find plenty of teens congregating in the Gamer Zone (Deck 8), which has the requisite number of shoot 'em ups and high-speed car rides.