To be honest, I’ll say this right up front: Our first, and so far only, cruise on Explorer of the Seas is perhaps the poorest cruise experience we have ever had, but it’s important to remember, that doesn’t make it a bad cruise, not by a long shot! In spite of the things we didn’t like, the ship itself is on par with Radiance of the Seas and Voyager of the Seas, two of the other ships Royal Caribbean has brought to Australia over the last few years. There are even some things that I’ve only seen on Explorer and I quite like. Read on to find out what in my review of Explorer of the Seas!
This article is all our own experience. Everything we did was paid for by us, and no part of it was free or subsidised. That said, some of the links in this article are affiliate links, which means that I get a small commission if you click it and make a booking or purchase. I hope that you’ll use these links anytime you need to book a place to stay or activity! These small commissions help me to keep travelling so I can write and film more travel guides for you. I would never recommend anything I don’t or would not personally use!
A quick question
What is the worst cruise experience you have ever had? I know some people are stuck on ships without power or where someone has passed away. Those experiences are far worse than ours. Let me know your worst experiences in the comments at the end of this article!
Without further ado, here is what I like about Explorer, and what I don’t like.
We went with an oceanview stateroom on deck two this time. It’s close to the bow of the ship, stateroom 2556. It’s our first time in this category of room and the lowest we’ve ever been on a cruise ship. That said, we love the type and location. We’d choose it again. It has very minimal movement in rough weather compared to higher decks, and it is quite soothing to hear the waves crashing outside. It’s almost like being at a beach house, but without the beach.
That said, the room does need some maintenance. The bed is the hardest mattress we’ve ever had on Royal Caribbean. We usually sleep on a firm mattress anyway, so for us to feel that it’s hard, it has to be pretty solid. Once our stateroom attendant put a mattress topper on it though, it was fine. Speaking of our attendant, he was lovely and so helpful, he looked after us just as well as any of our previous attendants. He did a brilliant job, even providing moisturiser for my wife and mother-in-law when they asked if that was possible.
The other thing we noticed is that the shampoo/conditioner dispenser in the shower was broken and never had any shampoo/conditioner in it. I asked a few times if our stateroom attendant could fill it up and also let him know that it needed fixing, but neither happened.
So overall, the stateroom experience is on par with our adventures on Voyager and Radiance.
Of course, there is absolutely no shortage of food on Explorer of the Seas, with a multitude of dining options to choose from.
Main Dining Room
We had a brilliant first waiter in the main dining room. He did a great job, and we could not have asked for more, especially considering the particular requirements at our table! We are incredibly thankful and appreciative of that.
The food overall was also excellent, but this is the first cruise that we’ve seen so many red meat dishes sent back due to being cooked incorrectly or in one case, a lamb chop that was almost entirely fat. In only ten nights compared to other cruises that have been fourteen and eighteen nights long, that’s pretty bad. It seemed like the kitchen was not taking a lot of care with the food that was being sent out.
That said, our first waiter taught us a phrase in Hindi which I would use to describe our overall dining experience. Bahoot achahay, very good! Shoukrya, thank you.
Our second waiter seemed to be very new. He was very nervous and seemed to be learning. No complaints really, but as a result, there were a few little things here and there that he missed and that he was subtly corrected on by our first waiter.
At breakfast time though, we did note that when asking for soy milk it took an average of 15 minutes for someone to get it. I don’t understand why, but we were otherwise finished eating in the time it took. We found that if we asked as we were being seated that it worked out better, but it still took around 15 minutes.
We didn’t encounter any issues with the food here, and it was all just as good as any other ship. However, again, when requesting soy milk at breakfast time it would take a good 15 minutes for someone to get it, at least. When I asked why they said it was because they had to go to the dining room for it. The irony of all this is that when you are sitting across from the bar at Windjammer, there is a carton of soy milk there in plain sight alongside the other milk cartons behind the counter.
Food options at breakfast time are fairly standard hotel buffet options like hash browns, sausages, bacon, eggs, pastries, cereals, fruit and so on.
Lunch options include a pretty huge variety but you will almost always find some variety of curry, burgers, hot dogs, pizzas, salads, vegetables and other savoury items plus desserts.
At dinner time the Windjammer Marketplace buffet is reflective of the main dining room. There will typically be a variety of savoury and dessert items that are similar to the menu downstairs as well as burgers, salads, and other choices.
Depending on your meal, there are also free drinks available. At breakfast time there was usually an orange juice and another juice. During lunch and dinner, it varied between lemonade, fruit punch, iced tea, and a strawberry and kiwi juice. There are also hot drinks available. We found typically teas, herbal teas, coffee and hot chocolate were available here for free.
One thing I noticed here that stood out to me from other Royal Caribbean ships was at breakfast time. Windjammer Marketplace on Explorer of the Seas has fruit smoothies available as part of the breakfast buffet.
I’ve seen this on Princess cruise ships, but never on Royal Caribbean. The flavours seemed to vary between days, but most of them were melon based, either watermelon or rockmelon, with the addition of strawberries, kiwi fruit, citrus and other fruit. I’m hoping I might start to see these make their way into other Royal Caribbean ships as well.
I must admit, I do like the way the back of Windjammer is set up on the Voyager class ships, and Explorer of the Seas is no different, with views available straight out the back of the ship.
I also quite like that you can really chill out here when it’s not too busy, most of the seats are a relaxed outdoor style, and there are a few booths and lounges too. Since you can find afternoon tea here as well as the main meals, I find it is a pretty good spot to sit and watch the sea with some snacks.
Typical afternoon tea fare is sandwiches, chips and other lighter finger food options.
The fare here was pretty consistent. Rolls, wraps, and pizza with an assortment of desserts that never changed.
On Radiance of the Seas at the Park Cafe, these selections changed regularly, and you could get a meal that in some way resembled what you might have missed out on in the main dining room or Windjammer. Not on Explorer of the Seas though. It operates the same way as the Cafe Promenade on Voyager of the Seas. The only variety you get here is an occasional change in pizza or dessert options. Not a negative since that’s the way it’s intended, but it is one of the reasons I prefer the Radiance class of ships over the Voyager class.
Crown and Kettle and the Promenade Buffet
The Crown and Kettle is a pub, but a lesser known secret is that on Explorer of the Seas, the Crown and Kettle serves pub style food too. Typically this is just items like pies, sausage rolls and pasties.
However, during some lunchtimes, a small buffet was set up in the Royal Promenade outside the Crown and Kettle serving pub style food. This included items like burgers, hot dogs, pies, mashed potato, chips and gravy.
Sometimes the buffet also included items like rice and curry, pulled meats and vegetables.
We found this was a pretty convenient option on port days when we ducked back onto the ship for lunch. It was a lot quicker and easier than going up to Windjammer or lining up at the Promenade Cafe.
Explorer of the Seas is the first ship I’ve come across featuring Izumi Express. At lunchtime on the Royal Promenade, a small cart is there serving Japanese inspired takeaway food from the Izumi Express menu.
These items are similar to the ones you can get at the Izumi Restaurant but without the wait. Just remember, this one is a paid dining option with prices ranging from USD $4 each up to USD $9 each. We didn’t try any of these.
We did visit Chops Grille on the first night, and while it was good food and there were no problems, it was a better experience on the Radiance of the Seas. On Explorer, even though fewer people were dining, it seemed like the wait staff was much less attentive and that they forgot about us.
One other thing to note about Chops Grille on Explorer of the Seas is that it is located on deck 11, giving it an excellent view!
Giovanni’s Table and Izumi
We didn’t dine at either of these restaurants, but, located on deck 4 opposite the Schooner Bar the outlook of Giovanni’s is similar to Radiance of the Seas. Izumi is located way up top on deck 14 near Dizzy’s Club.
If you don’t feel like dining out, you can always get room service. There is a USD $7.95 tray charge and you can order as much as you like for that flat fee. We opted not to try it this time.
The Royal Promenade
The main interior shopping deck, whether it’s the Royal Promenade on Voyager class ships or one of the others for other ship classes has always been used for shop sales and other promotions.
On Explorer of the Seas, it goes beyond that. It has an almost permanent stall for Next Cruise and the Vitality Spa. It also frequently has Izumi Express, a paid Japanese takeaway option as I mentioned earlier. At some lunchtimes, it also has the small buffet shown above set up outside the Crown and Kettle pub with some free food options like pies, burgers, hot dogs or sausage rolls. I don’t have a problem with most of this stuff, in fact, I like the little buffet and the fact that there is an alternative Izumi option. However, it feels like there is more push to make you spend more money, especially with the placement of these things typically being at the narrowest point on the promenade. I personally found the Vitality Spa stall to be the worst offender here. On our cruise, their table was set up at the narrowest point, in front of the Harley Davidson motorbike display.
Putting it here made the walkway even tighter, and by the time you add spa representatives out the front, it created a real bottleneck that made it challenging to walk through here. I’d been thinking about getting a massage on this cruise, but this tactic turned me off the spa. It seemed extremely inconsiderate to guests to degrade their cruise experience to sell a few more services. Most of the other stalls were typically beside the Harley so they didn’t impede the walkway as much.
All that aside, the Royal Promenade is quite a magnificent structure where you can almost forget you are actually inside a ship rather than walking down a city street or in a rather ornate shopping centre.
Entertainment and Activities
Honestly, Explorer of the Seas had a weird mix of both the best and the worst entertainment and activities of our past cruises.
The Palace Theatre
I thought it was also great that Explorer has different production showtimes in the Palace Theatre.
I know that the production shows rotate around, but we’ve seen the ones running on Voyager and Radiance (they both have the same shows) many times, so we don’t bother going anymore. The singers and dancers aboard Explorer during our cruise also do a great job and are some of the better ones we’ve had on a cruise departing from Australia.
On Voyager there were often matinee shows on sea days, however, I was disappointed these were not offered at all on Explorer.
Ice Skating Shows
We’ve seen three different ice skating shows on Voyager of the Seas, and the one we saw aboard Explorer was the best!
There are typically multiple ice skating shows, and where Voyager of the Seas handed out tickets, Explorer of the Seas organised the shows based on muster station so everyone would have an opportunity to see one of the shows. This is a bit of a pain if there is something else on during your muster station time, but they do allow extras into the other show times in the last few minutes before starting time, so you may be able to catch a different show that way.
In spite of the better live shows, the movie scene is lacking. There is no movie channel like there is on every other ship we’ve been on. The poolside movies are either on at the first dinner seating time or late. There are rarely any movies in the Palace Theatre, and when they are it’s usually so late, we are in bed already (and that’s coming from people aged under 30!!). One of the kid’s channels did have kids movies sometimes, but that was about it on the in-room movie side of things.
It seemed like the budget had been cut or something. We usually watch at least four movies on a cruise, often more. At least one poolside, and all that we can in the theatre, especially 3D ones. Then we usually have whatever is on TV running while we are chilling in our stateroom or we watch them when we feel like a quiet night in. This time? We didn’t watch a single movie except one on the kid’s channel, and the ones we brought ourselves on our iPad. I know it’s just one aspect of entertainment, but for us, it felt like a big part of what we love about cruising was gone. I don’t get why, when the Palace Theatre is a fully equipped 3D cinema, they don’t take advantage of it.
Located on deck 4 underneath the Royal Promenade is Casino Royale. I don’t normally spend much time here, and this was no exception. However, I had a few extra free spins on the ‘lucky’ slot machine. I won a few cents, which conveniently is not redeemable, instead, they give you an entry into a draw on the last night of the cruise. Of course, I didn’t win any of the 3 draws. However, I did score a few USD that had been left in a machine. As usual, you know you are entering the casino by the clear floor with ‘treasure’ below. It always catches me by surprise the first time I walk on one of these floors!
As on most ships, you can see what’s happening on the bridge via the Peek-a-Boo viewing platform on deck 11 right at the front of the ship. The blinds are open during daylight hours for you to have a look, the most interesting times are port arrivals, during open seas, you might only see one person on the bridge. There is a drop down from deck 11 to access the viewing platform, but there is a wheelchair lift available making it wheelchair accessible.
Pools and Hot Tubs
There are two main pools on deck 11, the pool deck, plus one adults only pool in the solarium at the forward of the ship.
There are also four hot tubs on the pool deck.
In the Solarium, you will also find two adult only hot tubs.
Lastly, you will find a big hot tub hidden away inside the Vitality Spa area, just outside the gym. This one is both the biggest and typically the quietest. However, it is only open during gym hours.
To get pool towels, you have to check them out with your Seapass card. Make sure to return them and get your card scanned again though or you will be charged for them!
Bars and Clubs
There are a number of bars and clubs around the ship.
The Schooner Bar is located on deck 4 towards the front of the ship, outside Casino Royale and Giovanni’s Table.
Near the midship elevators on deck 4, you will find The Tavern.
Jump up to deck 5 midship and you’ve got the R Bar.
On deck 11 you will find the pool bar and the solarium bar, then up on deck 14 is Dizzy’s Club and the Viking Crown Lounge. If you happen to have achieved diamond status, you will also find the Diamond Lounge here.
Then, of course, there is the Crown and Kettle pub.
You will also find a bar in pretty much every restaurant, lounge and the Palace Theatre.
There are, of course, other activities like the Flowrider, rock wall, basketball court, mini golf, and the various clubs and pubs including Dizzy’s on deck 14 which is a great spot to chill out during the day with an excellent view.
Some of the other activities were consistent with what we’ve had on other cruises, like morning stretching and Zumba dancing.
I’ll be honest, we didn’t use the Vitality Spa, and our experience entirely put us off. The awkward placement of their stall on the Royal Promenade combined with the heavy flogging their services got in every cruise compass was off-putting. That alone had turned me off going to the spa.
Add to that an issue my mother-in-law had related to a spa treatment on her previous cruise, and that did away with any remnant interest I had in going. She addressed the issue on the second day, and the spa manager said they would follow it up and get back to her. In the end, we had to follow it up ourselves every single day and ultimately get the revenue manager involved. Guest services were helpful in directing and coordinating everything when the spa manager failed to communicate or deal with the issue. It turned out though that guest services couldn’t do anything about the problem because contractors run the spa.
Once guest services put us in touch with the revenue manager (the spa managers supervisor), we did get the problem resolved, but even then, we still felt like we had to do all the follow-up and reminding.
Honestly, it felt that the spa did not care about their customers at all. I recognise that the treatment the issue was related to was on a different ship, Radiance of the Seas, but at the end of the day, it’s still the same company, and when my mother-in-law first raised her concern with them, they acknowledged it wasn’t right. Regardless of the issue, the lack of communication or even interest in helping just compounded the poor image that the spa on Explorer of the Seas already had. Frankly, I’d steer clear of it. You will not get any follow up support if you have an issue unless you are willing to spend an entire cruise chasing it. Poor spa service could be reflective of Royal Caribbean’s contractors as a whole, but we’ve only experienced it on Explorer of the Seas.
I’m not quite sure whether the gym really comes under Vitality Spa or not, but either way, we frequented it. You will find most of your typical gym equipment here including weights and a wide variety of machines such as treadmills, bikes, stair climbers, and a rowing machine.
A number of classes are available during your cruise at an additional cost, but the gym equipment is all free to use. One of the things I quite like about this gym is that there is a huge adults only hot tub. Granted, the atmosphere is not the most tranquil being at the gym entrance, but it is nice to be able to get in a hot tub that is bigger and generally has fewer people in it than the ones on the pool deck.
The internet is increasingly becoming a priority at sea. So, since it’s one of the most popular areas, I ran a speed test on the Voom internet package half way between Port Vila and Noumea. Here are my results:
As you can see, the speeds are not brilliant, but they are enough for most general uses. I also foudn that while video streaming is a little slow to start with, it does seem to speed up once it gets going, so there may be some quality of service things happening in the background that give you higher speeds on video content.
I’ve never been on a ship that asked for feedback so frequently. In 10 days, we got asked every couple of nights by the head waiter at the main dining room. Then during every breakfast and lunch, feedback cards were placed on the tables in the main dining room. Halfway through the cruise, we found a feedback survey in our stateroom. Around the same time, one of the chefs visited our table in the main dining room looking for feedback on all of the dining venues and times. Then, of course, everyone we dealt with was continually checking everything is ok. Even in Windjammer, someone was going around tables asking if there were any problems. It was almost to the point of being a nuisance, but it was great that they were asking.
Two days after our mid-cruise survey was submitted, there was even a change to movie times that we suggested! It was only changed for one night though and then went back to how it was. So perhaps it wasn’t really in response to our feedback.
So, to summarise the entertainment and activities: we typically have things highlighted all day in our cruise compass that we want to do. Often things overlap, and we have to choose based on how we feel. This time, our cruise compass was pretty light on with very little highlighted. I don’t think this is a reflection of the cruise director and activities manager, they both seemed to be doing everything they could. It looks like this could be more of a reflection on Royal Caribbean, but the Explorer guest services did tell us that each ship operates as a separate business unit and has autonomy to make decisions around onboard revenue and entertainment operations.
We just really weren’t impressed. It was great that the crew were actively seeking feedback, but the ship performance was sub-par in comparison to our other Royal Caribbean Cruises on Radiance of the Seas, Voyager of the Seas and Jewel of the Seas.
Genuinely, it seemed like in spite of all the feedback requests, very few crew members were that interested in what the feedback said or how good the guest experience was.
I don’t understand it.
It’s not an awful ship; it’s a beautiful vessel. The experience could undoubtedly have been worse, and I can’t fault a second waiter for being new or a stateroom attendant for maintenance issues that didn’t get fixed unless he didn’t pass them on to maintenance. It does concern me though that it’s a worse experience than any other cruise we’ve been on, including other cruise lines. We went on one with another cruise line where the ship was falling apart, but their crew made up for it every way they could, and it was an overall better experience than Explorer of the Seas. That tells me there is a problem.
Hopefully, as the crew is rotated around, come next season it will be better!
Just remember, whatever bad experience you have, chances are, there are some very positive aspects to it as well.
Let me know about your worst cruise experience in the comments below.