Just returned from the Explorer and I wanted to try to capture my impressions. For reference, I am 40 years old. I was traveling with my wife and 5-˝ year old son. This was our 14'Th cruise and our 12'Th with Royal Caribbean.
We arrived at the pier at 10:30. There were maybe 20 people in line ahead of us. There was a sign posted that Diamond members of the Crown and Anchor society or passengers in a suite were to go to the Commodore's club to check in. So we skipped the line and went right to a separate area where we were checked in. The process took about 10 minutes. We then proceeded directly to the ship.
I'm not sure if there is anything more I can say about the ship that hasn't been said already. It is incredible! The decor, the layout, and the facilities are unmatched by any ship at sea. I knew right away that this was going to be my ultimate cruise vacation.
We went right to our stateroom. We were in cabin 1568, a category B suite on deck 10. It was gorgeous. Almost 400 square feet with a 100 square foot balcony. There was marble on the floor, granite countertops. The furniture was very nice and the bathroom was as nice as any hotel we have ever stayed in. The cabin had a 19in TV with a VCR, DVD player and a stereo system with Bose speakers. The bed area could be closed off with a curtain for privacy. The room was even better than I had expected.
After checking out the cabin, we went right to the pool deck, grabbed a cocktail and let my son swim. Since we were one of the first to board, it was so quiet. I, of course, went to the windjammer and got my first taste of the food. I knew the from prior cruises that the windjammer food was usually not on par with the dining room…..WRONG! The food was excellent. Great selection, great taste and it was hot and fresh. I ate lunch there 6 out of the 7 days and I was never disappointed. The Windjammer was perfect. The only time I didn't eat lunch there, I went to Johnny Rockets. It was good but not great.
While on the subject of food, the Dining room food was also much improved. On all of our prior cruises with RCI the menu's had pretty much stayed the same. This time there was a big change. Many more interesting selections. Our waiter William and Asst. Catalin were among the best we ever had. William was just returning from vacation so he was only given 1 table for six. So the service was remarkable. We were getting our dessert before many tables got their entree's. Also, the addition of soft serve ice cream around the ship was very welcome. Great for an afternoon snack or late evening treat.
I was amazed that every single crew member said hello to me as I walked the halls. They were friendly and helpful and I always got a smile. This is a vast improvement over our prior cruises. It was a very welcome change and I hope it's a RCI initiative not just on the Explorer.
The entertainment was also first rate. We missed the first show but I heard it was great. We caught the variety show and the singers and dancers were very good. We also got to see the Ice show. This was the most entertaining show I have ever seen on a ship. It is not to be missed!
Let me say a word about the kids program. They have 4 levels of kid programs. Aquanauts for the 3 to 5 year olds. Explorers for 6 to 8. Voyagers for the 9 to 12's and then the teen program. My son will be 6 in September so he was an Aquanaut. The staff was terrific. They kept my son very busy. He wanted to go to all their activities. It left us a lot of free time in the evenings to just be together with my wife. They even took him for 2 hours on Labadee so we could swim without worrying about him. They dressed them up as pirates and had them parade around the ship. They had a circus where each child was dressed as a circus animal or clown. They took them to dinner one night at Johnny Rockets. They had snacks, play time, computer games and pajama parties. My highest compliments go out to these staff members. Each had a nickname Giant Jeff, Cockroach, Trouper all 20 somethings with years of childcare training, and it showed. They all seemed to love their work and the kids attached to them immediately. As a sidebar, we did the Disney Magic last year, and their program was like daycare. Very little real activities. RCI blew Disney away in this regard. You think Disney would be the best, but if you are trying to decide which line to go on with kids, RCI is the best choice.
Another aspect was how nice my fellow passengers were. I had daily conversations with people I had just met. We would run into each other and chat or have a drink. I don't know what it was about this week, but every single one of them was as nice as they could be. One afternoon I was walking past the Royal Suite on deck 10. The occupant was just going in and I just said hello and asked how they liked being in that incredible cabin. They invited me in and offered me a drink and took me on a tour of the whole room. WOW, that's the way to travel. I told them my wife would be jealous that I got to go in there. They told me to stop by anytime and bring her in. Now that's class.
As you can see I don't have any bad things to say about our trip. You would think I worked for RCI. Well, I don't. All the cruises we took prior to this I had a complaint about something. This time, in my humble opinion, the trip was flawless. Will I go again, resoundingly, YES! Will I recommend this trip, I already have.
I know there is much more I have missed. Suffice it to say that if you are contemplating a cruise, take this one! You will not be disappointed. Of course, I am not naive enough to realize that if 3000 people were on the ship last week, there will be 3000 different opinions. But from my point of view, you could not do any better than this trip.
One final note. I was in contact with a group of people on cruiscritic.com before I left. We corresponded for a month or 2 before we left. We got together on the first day in the Viking Crown lounge. We all wore rubberbands on our wrists to identify ourselves. This was a diverse group from all over the country. After we met, we ran into each other all week. I wanted to thank each of them for making my cruise all that much better. They were a great group to spend a week with, and I hope to see them again on the high seas.