As part of its revitalisation, Explorer gained three new specialty-dining restaurants as well as refreshed complimentary dining areas. While you can spend the entire cruise eating yourself silly in the complimentary dining areas, book into one or all of the specialty restaurants during your cruise for quality food and service that is worth every cent of the premium.
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Royal Caribbean doesn't pretend to be a gourmet-dining cruise line but one can eat very well without forking out a cent. There is a good selection of healthy and vegetarian options across all the complimentary establishments and the service, as per the rest of this ship, is friendly, lively, and generous.
Sapphire Dining Room (Decks 3, 4 & 5): The three-level formal Sapphire Dining Room is one of the most stunning in moderately priced lines: a magnificent space linked by a grand staircase, dramatic fluted gold-leaf columns, golden velvet curtains and a ceiling dome with gold bursts, stars and fibre optics.
The a la carte cuisine is generally well prepared, if not particularly innovative. Each menu includes healthy fare, vegetarian dishes, options for food intolerances and a standard in-case-nothing-else-appeals selection of entrees (a choice of pasta with marinara sauce, salmon, chicken breast and Black Angus top sirloin). Service by the international staff is attentive and friendly.
Breakfast and lunch are open seating, though you shouldn't take that to mean that you can always snare a quiet little table for two. The ship's best-kept secret may be that lunch in the dining room is one of the better meals onboard. A salad bar is staffed by chefs who create incredible salads to order with provisions (vegetables, meats and cheeses) that are fresher and more varied than in the Windjammer buffet, and the heaping plate of veggies can easily stand alone as a full meal.
Explorer offers Royal Caribbean's flexible My Time Dining program at dinnertime. Passengers can choose between assigned early (6 p.m.) or late (8:30 p.m.) dining with pre-determined tablemates, or opt for flexible dining, in which you pick a preferred mealtime (anytime between 6 and 9:30 p.m.), but can change your reservations on a daily basis. (Note: Those opting for My Time Dining will need to pre-pay gratuities.)
Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, the main dinner sitting is at 6 p.m. with a second seating at 8:30 p.m.
Cafe Promenade (Deck 5): The 24-hour Cafe Promenade located on The Royal Promenade features light fare at all times (pastries in the morning and sandwiches at night) as well as serve yourself tea and coffee facilities.
The Windjammer Marketplace (Deck 11): Explorer of the Seas' buffet restaurant features mediocre, steam-table cuisine. Kudos must be given, however, to the egg station at breakfast (where you can request a variety of prepared-to-order dishes) and the carving station at lunch. A new gluten-free corner is another thoughtful touch for those with dietary limitations. The Windjammer Marketplace is open for breakfast from 6:30 to 11 a.m., lunch from 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m., and dinner from 6:30 to 9 p.m. and is a good option for those nights when flexibility is required.
Room service: There are options available around the clock via 24-hour menus that offer a range of snacks and sandwiches. At breakfast, continental dishes, along with a handful of egg entrees, are available both in cabins and suites. Items off the main dining room menu can be ordered at dinner. There is no charge for room service between 5 a.m. and midnight (though a dollar or two gratuity is recommended); late-night orders incur a U.S.$3.95 fee.
The ship has been fitted with three specialty dining restaurants, along with the already popular Johnny Rockets, giving cruising gastronomes an excellent selection of cooked-to-order cuisine.
Giovanni's Table (Deck 4); $25: Feast family-style on classic Italian fare. The Tuscan-style trattoria offers rustic dishes with contemporary flair. Antipasti platters and enormous servings of pasta make it ideal for sharing, but stand-alone appetizers and mains are also excellent. Be sure to save a little room for the dessert trolley, stacked with classic Italian cannoli, tiramisu and more. Giovanni's is open for lunch and dinner, a surcharge of U.S.$25 per person applies.
Chops Grille (Deck 11); $30: Royal Caribbean's signature steakhouse features A-grade premium cuts cooked to order, plus fresh seafood including lobster, fish and jumbo shrimp. Standout menu items include the carpaccio of rare charred beef with Parmesan, shaved asparagus and a truffle mustard dressing; pan-roasted jumbo scallops; incredible dry-aged steaks cooked how you like it; and decadent grilled Maine lobster. Service and cuisine are excellent, if a little slow, so be prepared for a long dinner. Reservations are recommended though the first night of any cruise tends to be slow, so walk-ins are accepted. Chops Grille is open from 6 to 9:30 p.m., peak times occur between 7 and 8:30 p.m. A U.S.$30 surcharge applies.
Johnny Rockets (Deck 12); $6.95: At this 1950s-style dining venue enjoy impromptu wait staff song-and-dance performances with your burgers and onion rings. Johnny Rockets is open from 11:30 a.m. to 11:30 p.m., there's a U.S.$6.95 cover charge to eat Johnny Rockets food. (No matter how much you order, the fee is still the same, and iced tea, milkshakes and draft beer are a la carte.) If you don't like to wait in line, aim to arrive at 11:30 a.m., just after it opens, or after 3 p.m.
Izumi (Deck 14); a la carte: This is a welcome option for fans of traditional Japanese. In addition to sushi, sashimi and ramen, the venue also does hot-rock cooking (where you cook your meat and fish on a hot stone at the table) for something interactive and fun. Izumi is open for lunch and dinner, a la carte menu prices apply.
There's also a Starbucks (at a cost) for those who can't live without their barista-style coffee fix and Ben & Jerry's ice cream (also at a cost), which operate from around 10:30 a.m. to the wee small hours of the morning.