One of the Voyager-class vessels - debuted 2000 - not due for major upgrade until 2015
Best For People Who Want
One of the early Royal Caribbean mega-ships with sports options and nightlife
Should Be Avoided By People Who Prefer
A small ship with lots of quiet; large inside/outside standard cabins; single, open seating or intimate dining; a close-to-the-sea cruise.
Explorer of the Seas, second of the Voyager-class vessels, (Voyager, Explorer, Adventure, Mariner and Navigator) quickly followed on the keel of Voyager of the Seas which entered service in 1999 as the largest cruise ship in the world. Explorer is a near identical twin also featuring an ice skating rink, rock-climbing wall, in-line skating track, horizontal atrium, and inside-facing cabins with a promenade view.
Like Voyager, this 3,114-passenger ship appeals to people of all ages -- from kids to seniors -- and with nearly every taste. This is a real people-watching ship; even those who can't do all of what the Explorer offers seem to enjoy watching those who can. The 40-foot-high rock-climbing walls are busy all day. There is an ice-skating rink for recreational skating as well as for Ice Capades-type shows, and a curvaceous rollerblading track on the open decks. There's a three-story dining room, one of among the biggest casinos at sea, and a 9-hole miniature golf course. A "first" on Explorer is a dedicated lab space for the Atmospheric and Oceanographic Laboratories, providing experts with tools to monitor all kinds of important oceanic metrics. They also offer hands-on demonstrations, interaction with scientists and such displays as a touchable iceberg to passengers.
There are a full three miles of public corridors, but the hallways are occasionally "jiggered" so you don't get a sense of the full distance, plus excellent signage precludes anyone getting too grievously lost. There is a severe shortage of elevators, with but two banks of four to service 3400 people over 14 decks. Wait times can be excruciating.
A simple "let's go see the ship!" comment on day one leads you out the door, and by the time you return to your cabin you will feel like Marco Polo. The 500-foot-long, four-deck-high Royal Promenade, all too evocative of an onshore mall, is like a real street, with a cherry-red British Morgan car parked outside the faux English Pub. The promenades are lined with cafes, a 24-hour eatery for pizza, pastries and sandwiches. Shops, including souvenirs, liquor and cigarettes, display their wares outside on days at sea.
There is a $4.25-per-scoop Ben & Jerry's. Pay-per-view in-cabin movies are $11.95, and there's a $3.95 per person service charge to Johnny Rockets (although the burgers are free, and worth every cent). There's a $20 surcharge for the small alternative restaurants Portofino which serves great a la minute meals but are a little overly crowded.
Clean, simple and tasteful, featuring a lot of Art Nouveau influence, seems just right for a ship this size. The atrium boasts a beautiful fiber optic sculpture rising several stories. The ship's well-placed art is surprisingly sophisticated. Particularly notable are the Georgian-style dining rooms, a stunning tucked-away lounge for smokers called the Connoisseur Cigar Club (to which you'll have to ask directions); and the elegant Champagne Bar, with curvaceous champagne-colored leather banquettes.
The breathtaking Royal Promenade -- three decks high, longer than a football field, wider than three lanes of traffic -- has no outdoor windows, but is always dazzlingly illuminated, as only befits a venue for Mardi Gras-style parades complete with stilt walkers, a swaying inflatable dancer, streamers and confetti.
The enormous Casino Royale, through which passengers must pass to get to the main show lounge, is gilded to within an inch of its life, with nearly 300 slots and tables for blackjack, craps, roulette and Caribbean Stud Poker. The disco pulses into the wee hours. Floor-to-ceiling seawater tanks teeming with Day-Glo tropical fish flank the Aquarium Bar. The well-stocked library, which feels like an urban bookshop, provides seating along its glass wall for an overview of the Royal Promenade. The Viking Crown Lounge is perched 14 decks above the ocean. You can get married in port in the ship's Wedding Chapel, bringing up to 60 of your closest friends and families.
The gorgeous La Scala Theater, a state-of-the-art 1,350-seat show lounge, features such decorative elements as a Murano glass chandelier and a jewel-bedecked velvet stage curtain.
That ice rink you hear so much about is a two decks below the atrium and right in the middle of the ship, which means some fancy footwork is sometimes required to get to other public areas. In fact, the great and spacious interior of the ship is almost completely surrounded by private cabins, so to get any look at the ocean at all you'll have to head for the cluster of lounges on the upper decks or outside on the decks themselves.
Amply decked out with recliners, the pool areas bustle with activity and also are the staging area for fashion shows and planned games. The real action takes place on the sports deck, where fitness fans work up a sweat playing ping-pong, basketball or rock-climbing. Families flock to the open-air 9-hole miniature golf course. There is inline skating on a well-padded track.
The best spots for being alone with a book during days at sea are the sea view Seven of Hearts card room and Cloud Nine Lounge on Deck 14. Serious misanthropes can retreat all the way up the curving stairway to Deck 15's Skylight Chapel, where no one ever ventures, and where no music is piped in.
Mouthwatering descriptions on the menus notwithstanding, you probably won't hear people raving about the food. Particularly annoying are misleading descriptions of food items, a notable one being a dessert called "chocolate fondue" which evokes a plate of fruit and marshmallows for dipping into a bowl of hot, molten cocoa-laden chocolate. What arrives is a refrigerated bowl of congealed white pudding with a few berries stuck to the bottom. The immediate response is, "Huh? What is this?" It turns out the description says "white chocolate" and as for the word "fondue," - well, it just isn't one.
These ships have changed their dining room menus, limiting the number of courses. While most ships list appetizers, soups, salads and entrees separately, there are now but two categories, starters and entrees, with a single type of salad offered as a separate option. The result is people getting different items (soup, salad, appetizers) all at different times. Entrees will all arrive at once, however. Beef is the best bet - fish is unpredictable. In addition to entree selections that vary nightly, the menu always offers salmon, chicken breast, steak or pasta. These are often the best choices on the menu.
Particularly problematic is the bar and wine service. There are no dedicated sommeliers so don't be surprised if your white wine arrives at room temperature and no ice bucket if you order a bottle. Wine by the glass is three fingers in the smallest wine glass made, and costs over $7.00. Royal Caribbean does not offer to keep unfinished bottles in their cellar for their guests, but you can cork it and take it with you at the end of the dinner.
Specialty coffees like espresso or cappuccino with dessert, with or without liquor, have to be ordered from bar service which can be tortuously slow. Try to order these well ahead of dessert or you will likely be served after your meal is finished.
Cabin service staff is efficient but unobtrusive. The purser's desk tries hard to be responsive, especially in view of how much troubleshooting they must do on a ship this size. Room service, though, can be pretty slow.
The ship's elegant main restaurant features a crystal chandelier a grand, two deck staircase. The three decks it spans are separately named for famous operas; Carmen, La Boheme and the Magic Flute. The ship's second most popular dining venue (though it is more of a lunching venue) is Johnny Rockets, which carries a $3.95 per person service charge (soda fountain drinks are extra), and in which you might have to wait to be seated. The vast Lido deck restaurant for casual buffet-style meals is cleverly designed to look like two individual eateries, minimizing the sense of size and crowds. Portofino, the alternative Italian restaurant, is a lovely intimately-lit venue, though you might, if you're not attentive, realize you've got your fork in an adjacent diner's salad; the tables are that close together.
More complimentary options including Jade Sushi for Asian-fusion cuisine,
Café Promenade for coffee and pastries/snacks,
Portofino Italian restaurant, where for one low cover charge you can choose any items off the menu from appetizer to dessert*
Casual dining and snacks at Johnny Rockets
Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream*
with a smile is the style here, and room stewards work especially hard. While these ships started out working quite well, certain challenges arrive with age. The laundry facilities don't seem to be up to the challenge of a ship this size, so towels are worn out and odors have settled into the seat cushions. The drainage systems are not as clear as they used to be and showers may back up. The front desk does its best to help but unfortunately they have to deal with a very large crew that often can't deliver what they try to promise.
Royal Caribbean suggests a per person per day gratuity of $3.50 for the stateroom attendant ($5.75 if sailing in a suite); $3.50 for the waiter; $2.50 for the Assistant Waiter; .75 Head Waiter. These gratuities may be paid in cash or charged to your onboard account. For children sailing as third or fourth passenger in the stateroom, tipping is at the parents' discretion.
An 18 percent gratuity is automatically added to all beverage tabs. Gratuities for room service, spa, casino and other staff are at your discretion.
The Vegas-style production shows, especially clever in their special effects, rival Carnival's for the best at sea. The ship's musicians are adequately entertaining, with the best bet being the solo folk guitarist in the English themed pub serving several British ales on tap. Late night parties like the 70s Disco Show or Karaoke are held in the Connoisseur Club nightly. Daytime the is a minimal reggae band playing by the pool or in the Royal Promenade. A jazz trio heats up the Viking Crown Lounge at night.
Royal Caribbean is known for small cabins, inside cabins are just about big enough to turn around in. Hats off to Royal Caribbean, though, for not skimping on balcony cabins. Actually, cabins are roomier than elsewhere in RCI's fleet. Inside cabins do measure a stingy 160 sq. ft; but outside cabins range from 180 to 265 sq. ft. and suites from 610 to 1188 sq. ft. Moreover, there's lots of storage, especially nice for a ship that essentially goes nowhere. Standard amenities include color TV with CNN and movies; a safe; individual temperature controls; and RCI's first hair dryers. There are tubs only in the highest category staterooms' bathrooms; most have just showers (though unexpectedly large ones) with medicine cabinets.
If you book an interior cabin, be aware that the cabins come with twin beds, one against each wall. If you attempt to put them together for a single king-size bed you will not have enough room to get around the corners of the bed.
The ship's well-equipped gym still draws serious fitness buffs with its full range of state-of-the-art machines. The two-level Steiner Spa, with its winding staircase, looks more like the lobby of a boutique hotel, albeit with a Greek motif. It houses a small attractive thalassotherapy-like pool in an airy glass-enclosed but private semi-circular room. The Solarium's serene outdoor pool area nestles behind the spa; you're surrounded there by fountains, foliage, and statues, with a retractable glass ceiling overhead.
Royal Caribbean has made a number of improvements to youth and teen programming. One new program is Adventure Theater, developed by Camp Broadway in New York City to give kids an immersion into the performing arts. On each RCI sailing, teens and kids can learn acting fundamentals, vocalization, and dance techniques during a series of three 45-minute Adventure Theater sessions.
Another innovative program is Scratch DJ101 classes, which are available to all ages, along with special two-hour sessions just for teens on Liberty of the Seas. After their lessons, teens can showcase their music mixing knowledge in a graduation performance that friends and family can attend.
RCI has added new activities for those three to five years old in conjunction with Fisher-Price. Some of the new themes include Chefs on Deck, which involves role playing for pre-schoolers; Dino Adventure; and Train-O-Mania.
Lastly, RCI unveiled a Youth Loyalty Program this summer. Children and teens can now also enjoy Crown & Anchor Society repeat passenger benefits. Rewards for youngsters on their second or more RCI cruise include Crayola Twistable crayons or a Royal Caribbean bag. All repeating youth receive a Youth Ultimate Value Booklet with coloring pages, games and discounts for onboard amenities such as Ben & Jerry's, Airbrush Tattoo, and arcade games. Parents can enroll their children (if they have already cruised with RCI) via the line's website: www.royalcaribbean.com/youth.
A new program for infants and toddlers 6 months to 3 years, in partnership with toy maker Fisher-Price, offers 45-minute playgroups for children accompanied by an adult, involving storytelling, creative arts, music and a variety of Fisher-Price learning toys and games.
Private babysitting is offered from 8:00 a.m. to 2:00 a.m., provided sitters are available, for children from one year old. The rate is usually between $8.00 and $10 per per hour depending on the number of children in the family. Cash payment is made directly to the sitter. Arrange through Guest Services at least 24 hours in advance.
There are two formal nights per cruise. Maybe it's this ship's particularly festive reputation that induced most men onboard our sailing to don actual tuxedos for formal nights. A dark suit is just as appropriate. In general, though, this ship offers so much to do onboard that passengers don't all dress alike.