The two-deck Zodiac Theatre is the ship's largest venue, with tiered seating so that everyone gets a good view of the shows. Shows are held once per night and include musicals, dance, magic, aerialist performances and special guest bands. Ladies Night is held on the last evening at 11.30 pm, with an adults-only ticketed show ($30) starring the Dream Boys performing sexy, choreographed dance routines. (Don't sit in an aisle seat or the front row if you don't want to be dragged up on stage to participate.) In the mornings of port days, the theatre is used as a meeting point for guests booked on shore excursions.
Activities include bridge tours to meet the captain, magic and juggling classes, bingo, trivia, game shows, destination lectures, live music, poolside dance and fitness, laughter yoga, movies on the big screen in the Grand Piazza, and craft classes to make things such as friendship bracelets, bookmarks, potpourri and finger puppets. The Zone is a family-friendly lounge with an ice hockey table, virtual reality (VR) computer games, PlayStation and Nintendo Wii U. The Esc Experience Lab is equipped with the latest VR/AR gaming technology for playing a variety of simulator and arcade games.
Explorer Dream throws seven parties over seven nights. Themes include '70s and '80s, Mexican Fiesta, Masquerade and Pyjamas, as well as a White Party, where passengers wear white clothing, and glow in the dark, where they dress in bright colours. Other options include listening to live music, watching live sports events or movies on the Grand Piazza's big screen, dancing, shopping, karaoke, trivia, fitness classes, virtual reality experience 'happy hour' and participating in or watching the guest talent show. The casino is huge, allows smoking and attracts a lot of gamblers until late.
During the Australia season, Explorer Dream presents an adults-only show called Dream Boys featuring muscular male dancers performing an interactive performance with sexy, choreographed dance routines. Held on the last night of the cruise, Dream Boys is restricted to passengers aged over 18; tickets cost $30.
For an Australia-based ship, Explorer Dream lacks a wide range of bars. Drinks attract an 18 per cent gratuity plus 10 per cent GST when in an Australian port or cruising near the coast; New Zealand's GST of 15 per cent is added when the ship cruises there. Beverage packages can be purchased for a flat fee for the duration of your cruise, starting at $338 per person (for seven days of beer, wine and non-alcoholic drinks) or $615 with the addition of spirits.
Lobby Cafe (Deck 7): Added in the 2019 refurbishment, this is a long counter that sells alcoholic beverages, mostly beers, as well as tea, coffee and cakes. There is no seating at the bar but the adjacent Grand Piazza has lots of tables and chairs set up in front of a big screen that broadcasts sports and movies. It's a lively area but often lacks a fun ambience because it backs onto the guest services desk.
Mahjong Lounge (Deck 7): Open 24 hours, this is simply a few tables in the middle of a food court. Drinks can be ordered from the table but the clientele is mainly Chinese men playing mahjong.
Palace Bar (Deck 8): This private and sophisticated small bar is accessible only to guests booked in The Palace suites. The plush, creamy leather stools are perfect to settle in for a chat with the bartender while waiting for your cocktail.
Palm Court (Deck 12): The ship's main bar is this large indoor venue with a dancefloor. Live music and theme parties are held here in the evenings. It is used for art and craft classes, dance lessons, trivia and afternoon teatime with a musical duo during the day. Drinks, especially cocktails, are brought to your table, but service is slow. The atmosphere is fun when a party is well attended but fairly lacklustre when it is quiet; however, it's a nicely refurbished space for an indoor drink with ocean-view wrap-around windows and tropical decor. Open from 8 am until 2 am.
Humidor Lounge (Deck 12): Near Palm Court, this cosy room allows smoking. Passengers can buy a Cuban cigar and ask the sommelier to match it with a single malt, cognac, port or wine. Open from 8 am until 2 am.
Sun Deck Bar (Deck 13): This outdoor eatery overlooking the pool has a bar on the side with tables and chairs to sit at, but it sometimes feels like you're crashing the restaurant. It's the closest thing to a pool bar on the ship, so grab a sofa on the side to enjoy the views and occasional live music. Open from 9 am until midnight.
The main pool on Deck 12 is surrounded by sun-loungers, tables and chairs. There are four hot tubs and a slow-moving waterslide that ends in a separate area to avoid splashing people in the pool. Drinks trolleys are set up poolside on Australia and New Zealand cruises to cater for the local market as the nearest bar is on the deck upstairs, housed within the Seafood Grill eatery. Live music is performed on a small stage a couple of times a day, along with dance classes, but otherwise it's a relaxing space for sunbathing.
The Palace has its own private pool at the back of the ship on Deck 8. Reserved for passengers booked in The Palace suites, it has a wonderfully spacious pool deck with lots of tables, chairs, couches, sun-loungers and shaded cabanas spread across three tiers with ocean views.
Explorer Dream does not have outside recreation facilities, except for the waterslide and sports court.
Deck 13 overlooking the pool deck has plenty of comfortable sun-loungers with small side tables, ideal for reading or relaxing away from the crowd.
The ship has a wide range of shops, guest services desk, shore excursions desk, box office for bridge tour tickets and private ballroom dance classes, mahjong lounge and a photography corner. A function room can also be booked for meetings and conferences.
Wi-Fi packages can be purchased from the Dream Cruises app: prices for up to two devices to be used simultaneously start at $24 per night for a basic package or $32 for faster speeds allowing light streaming; six nights costs $144 standard or $192 premium.
The spa is one of the more reasonably priced at sea, with Chinese foot reflexology (60 minutes for $68) proving to be a popular choice. Asian therapists also offer facials, body scrubs and wraps, acupressure treatments and Western-style massages such as Swedish, hot stone and Himalaya salt stone massage. Guests aged 16 years or above can also enjoy nail, makeup and hair treatments; those aged 15 years or below can have treatments with parental permission.
A thermal lounge, which can be used before or after treatments, includes male and female vitality pools, saunas, steam rooms and ocean-view relaxation rooms. Service is efficient and polite, with a serene atmosphere throughout the spa complex. The spa is open from 9 am until 1 am so there are plenty of available times for appointments.
The spacious gym is equipped with weights, resistance machines, treadmills, steppers, stationary bikes, yoga mats and a punching bag. Open from 7 am to 1 am, the gym is located on Deck 12 with ocean views and lots of natural light from floor-to-ceiling windows. A promenade deck allows walking or jogging. There is also an outdoor basketball court on the top deck but it was unused on our cruise because the ship's only basketball went overboard and had not yet been replaced.
The ship is well designed for family accommodation as most cabins offer third and fourth berths. More than 100 balcony cabins are interconnecting for parents who wish to sleep in a separate but adjoining room to the kids. (See the Cabins section of this review for more details.)
Explorer Dream's Little Dreamers is different from the kids' clubs on other cruise lines operating in Australia as only the first two hours are free, and there are very few activities for teenagers. Some interesting experiences are offered for children (up to 14 years) such as Junior Butler and Junior Bridge Officer, but these attract a charge of $20. Many group activities such as pizza-making and cupcake decoration also cost an extra $20. There are additional fee-based activities offered during the Australian school holidays.
The club, located on Deck 13, has both indoor and outdoor spaces. Live-streaming video screens are set on a wall outside the club so parents and guardians can watch their kids at play inside.
The minimum age to sail is six months, and Little Dreamers' child-care staff will change nappies. All infants must be toilet-trained before using the pool (no nappies are allowed). Facilities such as folding cribs, 'pack and play' sets and bathtubs can be pre-ordered for use during the cruise at an extra cost.
Little Dreamers Club operates three sessions -- morning, afternoon and evening -- and is closed for an hour during lunch and from one to two hours for dinner. Times vary depending on how many children are on board. The club accepts children from two to 12 years, however, some paid activities such as Junior Master Chef, sushi-making and the Ice Cream Party welcome children up to 14. The first night of the cruise hosts a Welcome Party and teens (no age is specified) are encouraged to come.
Parents must register their children for the club and also for the paid activities. Once they have dropped their children off, they are given a card stating the specific time to pick them up (children do not sign themselves out). After that two-hour time slot, an hourly rate will be charged. This hourly-rate practice will come as a surprise to Australians who are used to their kids attending the clubs for free. The rate, after the first two hours, is $35 per hour for two to four-year-old children; $30 for five to 12-year-olds. In-cabin baby-sitting is $50 an hour per child, with a maximum of four children.
The club has lots of toys, puzzle and games, a big TV screen and beanbags. The club operates on a first-come-first-served basis and has room for 60 children. The outdoor area has a padded floor with playground climbing equipment and beanbags. The special activities such as Junior Master Chef, Pizza Making, Cupcake Decoration, Mermaid Dress-Up party and the Ice Cream Party costs $20 per child, while Sushi Making is $25.
The school holiday program (from mid-December to the end of January) costs $50 per child for the entire cruise (be it four, five or seven nights). These activities include a Lego workshop, Unplugged Coding, Dream Bridge Officer and Junior Butler (kids visit The Palace and the bridge) a pyjama party and a 'graduation' ceremony. The line also has Little Dreamers Membership offering benefits such as discounts on food and beverages and onboard entertainment, birthday benefits and a Children's Day gift (the latter would apply to Chinese children).
There are no specific facilities or programs for children over the age of 12, apart from the paid activities such as pizza-making and cupcake decoration, which are available to those up to 14 years. There are no specific teen-oriented shore excursions. The ship does, however, have a few video games in The Zone and ESC Experience Lab, both on Deck 12. These video and Virtual Reality (VR) arcades are open from 9 am until midnight and have a huge collection of games costing from $2, paid for by swiping the cruise card. The Zone is a small area with a few video games and beanbags, while the ESC Experience Lab has many games including four VR experiences. Games include Air Hockey, PlayStation 4, VR Ski Racer, Fruit Ninja and dance videos. The most expensive is the VR Space Shuttle at $16 a go. There are a few gambling-style games where money is inserted with the hope of winning more money -- Caterpillar is one such game where players swipe their card for $15 and receive 15 Australian $1 coins and then drop them into a slot with the hope of winning a stack of $1 coins.
On games such as Air Hockey, players can earn tickets, which they collect and then cash in for prizes; however, the prizes themselves are not worth the money spent to earn the tickets.
Children and teenagers will love the Parthenon Pool, the poolside hot tubs and Caesar's Slide on Deck 12. Height restrictions apply to the slide, and children under 12 must be accompanied by an adult in the pool.