Royal Caribbean InternationalExplorer the Seas ReviewWestern CaribbeanDale Martin
Number of Cruises: 1
Cruise Line: Royal Caribbean
Ship: Explorer of the Seas
Sailing Date: January 14th, 2007
Itinerary: NOT FOUND
Royal Caribbean International
Explorer of the Seas Cruise Review
Just returned yesterday from 7 days on the Explorer out of Miami to the Western Caribbean itinerary. There were 3 couples, 2 were 1st time cruisers,1 was their 2nd cruise. All of us are mid thirties to early forties age group. We all are what I would call middle class "working Joe" type people with kids. We all work long hard hours. None of us are the type who regularly dine at 5 star restaurants, go to the opera or take yearly vacations to exotic locations, it simply is not an option at this stage of our lives. At the same time we are not totally uncivilized hicks who think KFC is fine dining. Not trying to step on anyone's toes, just trying to give some background on our perspective.
Of course, this being the 1st cruise for my wife and I, we have no personal basis of comparison. I will say that I spent many hours on this and other sites researching and reading reviews before choosing this ship. I have read the good and bad reports on all the major lines.
We flew from Philadelphia to Miami the morning of the cruise. Our transfers had been purchased as part of the cruise and went pretty well, I would definitely recommend for a 1'st time cruiser if you are flying to the departure port.
One piece of luggage was missing at Miami and after checking with the baggage claim people we were informed that it was still in Philly. They promised us it would get put on the next flight and make it to the ship before departure. I was skeptical but sure enough, it was delivered to our stateroom before the evening meal. I must give kudos to American Airlines and RC for "getting err done". Also this is a good reason to get an early enough flight to allow some "flex" time in case things go wrong. I suppose flying in the night before would be an even better idea but we were trying to keep cost down. Also mom's with young children for some reason don't want to be away from their "babies" an extra night!
The whole transfer and boarding process goes smoothly if you follow instructions and have your paperwork in hand. You get your personal Sea Pass card that is used for all purchases on the ship, opens your room door, and serves as your ID for getting on and off the ship at ports. I left my wallet and all it's contents in the stateroom safe all week. We would take only the spending cash we wanted for each day on land. Leave your wallet, purse, credit cards etc on the boat and carry your daily supply of cash in a fanny pack or backpack when you go ashore, most of the shops only want cash anyway. If you are going on an excursion where you will drive a jeep or dune buggy you will need your drivers license.
The ship itself is beautiful. Most public areas are stunning. The Royal Promenade down the center of deck 5 is the best way to get from one end of the ship to the other on the lower levels. The atriums at both ends of the Promenade are gorgeous with their spiral staircases and breathtaking vertical views. There are so many neat places to discover on this ship that the last day we were still finding things we had missed. One example is the Peek-a-Boo Bridge on deck eleven I think)
Here you can walk to the
front of the ship and look down through windows into the main control center of
the bridge. They also have monitors that show the current location of the ship,
the course it is on, heading, wind speed, knots etc. Another neat area is the
bow of the ship. This is on deck 5 but you need to access it from the outside
deck on level 4. Go toward the front of the ship and you will need to go up a
flight of stairs to access the helipad. You can actually go to the forward tip
of the bow and have your "Titanic" moment!
This area may not always be open due to the constant wind when the ship is moving, if the winds get too strong they block access to the stairs.
I could cover a lot of other areas but these are a few that were hardly mentioned in other reviews I read and I wanted to provide some new insights.
I will now give my
opinion of the good and bad of each major aspect of the cruise. Keep in mind my
background and relative lack of cruise experience.
We all had the low cost interior rooms at the very front of level 6.
They are nicely appointed, The beds are comfortable, the bathroom is big enough for 1 to do what you need to do. The round showers look small but aren't bad at all when using them. If you are over 300 lbs it might be pretty snug.
I have 2 complaints
1. To get onto the bed you actually have to crawl onto it from the foot end. There is about 12-14' between the bed and the wall on each side but at the bottom corners of the bed the room furnishings interfere so you have to crawl over the corner of the bed to get out. This is a real pain when you are trying to go the bathroom at 3am it the pitch dark without waking your bedmate. This may be unique to this class of stateroom. #6209
2. Although there was always hot water available, the shower pressure could get pretty low when half the 3200 people on board were trying to shower at the same time.
I would say the food overall is 8.5 out of 10. For the money spent not bad at all. When you consider the capacity on this ship they do an amazing job in my opinion.
If you want 5 star dining 3 meals a day you would be foolish to expect it for $699 for a 7 day cruise. I personally am not a picky eater but I know the difference between average-good-excellent food. Unless your #1 obsession is gourmet food I would think you would be happy with the Explorer's dining.
The food presentation for the evening meals in the dining rooms was great. Everything looking tasty goes a long way. The food taste overall was very good. Nothing I had was the best I have ever eaten of that particular dish but everything was very good. The meat always was done as ordered. My wife was the only one to send a meal back all week and that was a chicken dish that was too spicy for her taste, no fault of the chef. The key is they cheerfully exchanged it for something else from the menu.The food on the buffet lines was good too. I would compare it to what you would expect on a $12-$15 buffet line in most parts of the country. Again, you can't expect gourmet on a buffet feeding 3000 people! Unless you are a food snob you will find something you like.
1. Johnny Rockets serves up great cholesterol laden burgers, fries and onion rings if you get tired of the healthy free food on the ship.$3.95 cover charge and shakes are extra.
2.The Promenade Cafe has fresh made pizza, sandwiches and cookies at all hours for free. The chocolate chip cookies were excellent and the pizza is pretty good too. If you bring kids they will love this place and I was shocked We didn't see more kids there.
3. While we are not big drinkers the few drinks we had were good, at least the tropical drinks. They don't know how to make a good mud slide though!
1. We got the soft drink card for my wife. She is a Pepsi drinker but only Coke products on the ship. She got the card anyway because she can drink good fountain Coke. The problem is the quality was very inconsistent throughout the ship and most of the Coke was flat, watered down or syrupy sweet. The dining room had the best and it was only so-so.
2. The coffee is pretty much the same deal. They claim to serve Seattle's Best across the ship but it is very inconsistent, again the best is in the dining room. The best was just good, the worst was fair-poor and I am not a coffee snob by any means.
3.As a whole I wasn't impressed with the deserts. I am basically a pie and ice cream guy and not much for the boo-boo deserts but some of them were tasty enough. This was not a big deal, the desert is at the bottom of my meal priorities list.
1.As a whole, everyone from the room steward to the waiters and customer service desk people were very friendly and aim to please. We had no major issues and the few we had were dealt with at least competently and courteously. I did overhear 2 middle aged men down the hall complaining to each other, something about the group they were with not being able to find personalized service anywhere on the ship and they would be writing some letters when they got home. I didn't ask them for details on what they were upset about because frankly they didn't remind me of my kind of people anyway. I shared this with the others at dinner that evening and to a person they replied " what cruise are they on?" In my experience in sales and dealing with people on a service level I have come to the conclusion that there is a certain small segment of any class or group of people who want nothing more out of life than to find something to be mad off about and no amount of kissing up will appease them! If this is you please find a "high class" expensive cruise line and leave Royal Caribbean to us common folk who appreciate good service at a fair price without throwing a "hissy fit" if everything isn't perfect.
1.For some strange reason my wife would often get diet coke when ordering regular coke. This happened everywhere but the dining room. As the week progressed we learned to make eye contact with the server, emphatically say "regular coke, not diet", have them repeat it back to you to be sure they got it and then proceed to get her a diet coke anyway about half the time!
This was so ridiculous we had to laugh about it and will be a joke among our group for years, I'm sure.
Maybe I should write a hot letter to Royal Caribbean!!! Just kidding!!
2. If I wanted to nit pick, the bar steward at the evening meal was a little bit of a vulture. After anyone at your table orders a drink with dinner 1 time he will think you are money in the bank the rest of the week. This was especially true of the after dinner shot-sized "nightly specials". He would come around saying "tonight I have something (nice-nice) for the ladies" and proceed to try to put it in front of you if you showed even the least interest, before even knowing what the drink was. This was slightly over the top in my opinion but you just have to be firm he would move on to greener pastures. Those little after dinner shots were good the one time we tried them but at $5.95 for a drink that was about 1.5 oz of Baileys or Kaluha they were a little steep for our budget.
1.The ship was very nice and kept remarkably clean for the amount of people. I never saw a disgusting bathroom, which is usually the first thing to go downhill in any public place. Almost half the time I used a public facility on the ship there was an attendant cleaning it or we passed each other coming or going, impressive!
This is my biggest pet peeve. I have been at many a supposedly classy establishment that had serious issues in their lavatories. If they can keep heavily used restrooms in tip-top shape it bodes well for the kitchen and other areas as well. I didn't see anything on the ship that looked in disrepair. Maybe a few scuffs on trim work in the stateroom corridors but who really cares about that? Certainly not anyone with kids in their house!
They have hand sanitizer dispensers at the entrance to all eating areas and enforce their use, which may offend a few, but I say "bravo".
2.The ship seems well laid out and you soon learn to detour high traffic areas. Even on at sea days you can find areas that are almost deserted if you look a little bit. Try the library, the bow, the peek-a-boo bridge, the outside spaces on deck 4,the sun deck on deck 13.
3.The fitness center "shipshape" is a very well equipped gym with lots of modern equipment and a nice whirlpool. I was sorry I only checked it out thoroughly on our last full day.
1.As others have stated, deck chairs tend to get scarce on at sea days. However I noticed that if you are willing to be away from the pool you can find relative solitude and abundant chairs on higher decks.
2.Disembarking at tender ports can feel a little like a cattle stampede.
This was worst at Grand Cayman where the line snaked through the ship to disembark. There were a few line jumpers but overall a little patience went a long way. Once the line moved it went fast.
1. The Dolphin swim and snorkel at Cozumel was the highlight. This is the $144 excursion if booked through Cry's it is expensive but in this case you get what you pay for. If you are not into dolphins or are terrified of water do something else. If you are going to pay for a "dolphin encounter" of which there are several, pay top dollar and do the one where you actually get to swim with a dolphin. Read the description carefully, most don't let you do this, you only get to touch them! The facility where this is done in Cozumel is top notch and professional. It is actually a national park. They video and photograph you with the dolphins and then if you wish you can buy a surprisingly high quality DVD of the whole thing which they let you preview before buying. We split the cost of the DVD between the 3 couples and will make copies to share. There is a nice beach area right next to the dolphins where you can snorkel and use the beach chairs and thatch roof umbrella huts. A waiter will come out and take your order for tasty Mexican food and you can eat it on the beach or go into the restaurant to eat. Very nice! Note, the food is not part of the package. I give it a solid A.
2.In Grand Cayman we did stingray,snorkeling,beach barbeque combo. While not as professional and special as the dolphins it was pretty good. We were a little late tendering in and then the tour was slightly disorganized getting started. Once underway it went well considering the boat was packed to capacity and our time at the rays and the reef was cut a little short due to starting late. The reef was nice with some pretty fish and a tame baby nurse shark that all the boats apparently feed. They then took us to a private hotel beach for the lunch which was burgers, dogs, baked beans and barbeque chicken. Decent but pretty American. You also got 1 free rum punch. The beach was pretty but packed solid almost to waters edge with rows of beach chairs. I give the whole thing a B-.
1.In Belize we did river tubing and Mayan ruins. This was not all bad, just overpriced and not what they advertise. The tubing is OK. Getting to and from the river You walk from the bus through some very nice lush jungle where the guide does show you some interesting plants and trees. Then you ride from a staging area through an orange grove to the river behind a tractor. You can pick and eat oranges right from the tree, which is nice. When you get out of the river from tubing you walk through the "Mayan Ruins" whack is basically a small hill with the remains of a stone wall and another slightly excavated wall. Not much at all to see and definitely not what people were expecting. You ride back to the staging area and get a meal of rice and beans with barbequed chicken which was the best on shore meal we had, very tasty! Also ,they word the description of this excursion to make you believe you will see a waterfall. In fact it only states the river is fed by a waterfall not that you get to see it. This was a nice relaxing 45 minute tube float, all the oranges from the tree you can eat, a nice tasty lunch, a short jungle walk and a 1 hour bus ride each way, and the guide was funny and informative. No waterfall, crappy excuse for Mayan Ruins, not worth more than half what it cost. This is the one thing I may complain to RC about. It is really false advertising on their part! Give it a D for poor value.
In Costa Maya we did the jeep excursion and beach lunch. This was basically a 1 hour drive up paved highway till the last 5 miles then a very rough dirt path through the scrub brush to a nice little private beach area. You get there, they serve you chips and salsa,tachos and soda and then you get to "relax" on a nice little secluded beach for about 10 or 15 minutes and then it is time to hop back in the jeeps and drive back to town so they can get their 2nd and 3rd group of suckers in before all the cruise ships sail off! Don't get me wrong we had fun, but 1 more hour at that beach would have made a big difference in my attitude about this tour. Also they advertise that "time permitting" they will show you an old fishing village. Yea right! Maybe if everyone drives 90MPH and you skip your lunch and potty break! Needless to say we didn't have "time" for the fishing village. Not a total bust but not worth the money and a little misleading. I give it a C- I would raise it to a B- if the would lengthen the trip by at least an hour.
In summary, shore excursions are generally hit or miss and most are overpriced. Do you homework and read "between the lines" a little. If it sounds like they are trying to show you the 7 wonders of the world in a few hours you are going to be rushed. If you try to see a little bit of everything you end up seeing not much of anything! Pick 1 or 2 things that you most want to see or do and then pick a tour that will give you enough time to do it right. If I were to cruise again I would look into booking things on my own. Many things can be bought on shore for 1/2 to 2/3 what RC charges and you can bargain directly with the tour operator. Just use common sense like anything else in life. Most of the professional operators are on the web if you do your homework.
Well I have gone on too long. Overall this was a great vacation and the cruise itself was great for the money spent. I would try Eastern Caribbean next time to see new ports and probably not waste money on an excursion at every port. A trip is what you make it and a trip with good friends builds memories that will last a lifetime.Dont expect perfection in everything and everyone. Roll with the punches and laugh about the things that will be trivial tomorrow. 10 years from now we will still joke about Diet Coke, Mayan Ruins and our 15 minutes of relaxation at that pretty Mexican beach. At least we can say "been there-done that" instead of looking at somebody else's pictures!
In summary, yes I would
cruise with Royal Caribbean again and on this ship again. They did nothing to
make me want to look elsewhere, especially after reading some other's horror
stories. Perfect? Of course not.
Would I do a few things different next time? Definitely
Satisfied? Without a doubt!