The second of five in the revolutionary Voyager-class series that started with Voyager of the Seas in 1999, Explorer of the Seas follows the floating resort concept, with a wealth of facilities, activities and entertainment that will appeal to every age group. Some its most exciting attractions are an ice skating rink/concert venue/TV studio, spa/solarium complex, a shopping/dining/entertainment boulevard, 3D movie theatre, and outdoor movie screen. A fitness centre, outdoor jogging track and outdoor youth area with a rock-climbing wall, full-court basketball, nine-hole miniature golf and brand new FlowRider Surf Simulator offers active cruisers of all ages, from children to seniors, something to enjoy.
The Royal Promenade is the heart of the vessel. You feel like you are in an upscale mall as you walk this longer-than-a-football-field and wider-than-three-lanes-of-traffic boulevard anchored by two atria that are marvels of marble and colossal sculpture. Diversions on the promenade include shops selling everything from ship's logo items, to cheap accessories and designer merchandise.
Despite all the amenities, the ship has been out-sized and out-classed by the line's Freedom-class and Oasis-class ships, but Explorer certainly has plenty of solid selling points.
Daytime: During the day, dress is casual.
Evening: Evenings are either casual, smart casual or formal. On casual nights, suggested attire is sports shirts and slacks for men and sundresses or pants for women. On smart casual evenings, ideally, men should don jacket and tie and women dresses and or pantsuits. On the one or two formal nights per cruise, men can opt for a tuxedo, though a simple sports coat and tie is becoming the norm, while women should wear cocktail dresses or gowns.
Not permitted: Shorts are not allowed at dinner, regardless of the venue (with the sole exception of the buffet).
Where do you even begin? It can be very hard to find time to relax on Explorer of the Seas -- even on sea days -- because of the head-spinning array of activities that run from dawn to dusk and beyond! The ship's entertainment staff offer an intriguing blend of activities, and everyone, from the most traditional passenger to the completely contemporary traveller, will find something to do.
The Palace, the main show lounge, is the place to see Broadway-style revues and headline acts. The four-deck-high, 1,350-seat theatre has an opera-house ambience and excellent sightlines.
During the day, you'll find plenty of traditional cruise activities, such as bingo, ballroom dance lessons, towel folding demonstrations, art auctions, bridge pairing, arts and crafts workshops, films and seminars (on everything from healthy eating to acupuncture to facial rejuvenation). More athletic activities include rock climbing wall competitions, table tennis tournaments, boogie boarding sessions and the Men's International Belly Flop competition.
Throughout the day and night, there's often some type of performance along the Promenade, such as a parade or performances by comedians or musicians. Not to be missed is "Spirits of the Seasons" -- the ship's incredible ice skating spectacular in Studio B, complete with falling "snow." Or if you'd rather pull on the skates and show off some moves of your own, there are regular public sessions.
The Casino Royale beckons with a Vegas/rock 'n' roll theme and 300 slots, 10 blackjack tables, three Caribbean Stud tables, three roulette wheels and a craps table.
The Dancin' Under the Stars Deck Party is an evening of dancing, food and socialising with a DJ and all-star band by the pool. While indoors you can mix it up with karaoke at The Tavern, or the late-night fun of the Rock Britannia Street Party or '70s Disco on the Royal Promenade.
Other options include chilling in '60s cool of R Bar; live entertainment at the Crown & Kettle Pub; late evening sing-alongs around the piano at the Tavern; quiet drinks in the nautical-inspired Schooner Bar; live music and dancing at Star Lounge; secluded Connoisseur Club; jazzy vibes in Viking Crown; The Diamond Club for the exclusive use of Diamond-level (and up) members of RCI's Crown and Anchor Society; and late-night parties with a DJ in Dizzy's.
With a huge selection of lounges and clubs of varying intimacy and style, Explorer of the Seas has a venue to appeal to every passenger.
Schooner Bar (Deck 4): Royal Caribbean's signature piano bar is a nautically themed space and the spot for cocktails, live music and trivia games.
The Tavern (Deck 4): This lively sports bar is fitted with large screens showing live sport, including NFL games, football, hockey and major sporting events.
Crown & Kettle (Deck 5): One of the most popular and eventful venues on Explorer, the Crown & Kettle resembles an old-fashioned English country pub and serves a variety of imported beers and ales.
Star Lounge (Deck 5): Star lounge (formerly Maharaja's Lounge) is a 350 capacity show lounge with a dance floor and its own full-service bar. It is an entertainment hub and the place for activities that include art auctions, karaoke, bingo and game shows.
Connoisseur Cigar Club (Deck 5): The quiet and secluded Connoisseur Cigar Club has the vibe of a sophisticated gentleman's club and is the only lounge bar where smoking is allowed onboard.
R-Bar (Deck 5): Royal Caribbean's signature cocktail bar (formerly the Champagne Bar) is an elegant bar with a sixties vibe; it's the place to go for classic handcrafted cocktails prepared by the ship's resident mixologist.
Concierge Club (Deck 9): This exclusive lounge and bar with concierge service offers hors d'oeuvres, petit fours and complimentary self-service drinks to passengers staying in Grand Suite-level rooms and higher, as well as Diamond Plus and Pinnacle Club Crown & Anchor members.
Pool Bar (Deck 11): The Pool Bar serves beverages throughout the day alongside the main pool area.
The Solarium Bar (Deck 11): This bar is for passengers visiting the adults-only Solarium pool.
Sky Bar (Deck 12): The alfresco Sky Bar is a second bar area servicing the pool and sun deck areas.
Diamond Club (Deck 14): This signature 24-hour venue -- for use by Crown & Anchor members only -- is a full-service bar, also serving Continental breakfast and hors d'oeuvres
Viking Crown (Deck 14): The spacious Viking Crown Lounge is an indoor observation lounge, which offers incredible vistas over the ocean by day and cocktails and music by night.
Dizzy's (Deck 14): The lounge and bar is an atmospheric jazz club with a dance floor and bandstand for live performances and dinner shows.
Explorer is all about offering active travellers a smorgasbord of outdoor fun with loads of activities for every fitness level.
The ship's main pool area features two adjacent pools, two jumbo-size and two regular whirlpools, and stadium lounge seating. One interesting note: One of the pools and a whirlpool have hydraulic lifts for the disabled. The solarium pool is an adults-only area with a retractable glass roof making it possible to enjoy the pool and two whirlpools rain, hail or shine.
Voyager-class ships -- and Explorer of the Seas is no exception -- are famous for their "get out there" philosophy when it comes to onboard recreation. As such, a huge area (aft) is dedicated to the pursuit of athleticism. There is, of course, the rock climbing wall rising 200 feet above the sea (instruction is available), along with a golf simulator (for an extra fee), full-court basketball/volleyball, a Flow Rider Surf Simulator and miniature golf. The ship also offers a handful of ice skating opportunities on sea days at Studio B.
If you feel like running off a few of the calories from your buffet breakfast, there's a jogging track that loops around the sports deck (five times around equals a mile). The track is split in half, with one half for joggers and the other half for walkers so you can go at a pace to suit your fitness.
The rock climbing wall soars 75 feet above deck with different tracks for various experience levels. Or get your game on at the full-size sports court for basketball, volleyball, tennis and even cricket for Australian and British passengers. If you prefer a slower pace, the nine-hole miniature golf course might be more your thing.
The most exciting new addition to Explorer's outdoor line-up is the FlowRider Surf Simulator. Passengers can try stand-up surfing or opt for bodyboarding in the wave-shaped pool. Sessions are very popular so get in early or book a private lesson for a small surcharge.
There are two levels of sundecks and an abundance of adjustable loungers and deck chairs, though the area above and around the pool can be crowded. If you're after a little privacy, try the lounge areas at the bow or stern.
The shore excursion desk is located alongside guest services on Deck 5, and both offer friendly and efficient service.
The ship has been updated with the latest technology features, including shipwide WiFi and Digital Wayfinders to help passengers navigate around the ship. Stock up on those need-it-now camera accessories at the Focus Photo Gallery, where you'll also find a "print on demand" onboard photo service.
Cruisers can also make use of a well-stocked library on Deck 7, 24 hours a day; and the Skylight Chapel (at the highest point on the ship, on Deck 15) is a place for quiet reflection.
The Steiner-operated spa has 14 multi-purpose treatment rooms, a hair salon and relaxation area with more than 100 treatments including massages, facials, Ionithermie algae detox, medispa treatments, teeth whitening and acupuncture. Service in the spa was very good -- and the quality of the treatments themselves was excellent. The prices are as one would expect for at-sea treatments -- in other words, high. The spa did offer discounts on port days (and as the cruise wound down).
With more than 15,000 square feet of workout, aerobics and spa facilities, the Vitality Day Spa and Fitness Center has lots to offer. The ocean-view gym with stereo and TV monitors offers treadmills, Reebok strength units, recumbent and upright cycles, steppers, Body Treks and free weights with multiple benches. There's also a huge wooden-floored group exercise room for fitness classes (some, like spinning, tai chi and yoga have a U.S.$12 surcharge), an indoor thalassotherapy pool and men's and women's locker rooms with a steam room and a sauna.
While you can spend the entire cruise eating yourself silly in the complimentary dining areas, book into one or all of the speciality restaurants during your cruise for quality food and service that is worth every cent of the premium.
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 is a complimentary Continental breakfast menu, with items like toast, pastries, cereal, fruit, coffee and juice.
The ship has been fitted with three speciality 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.
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.
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.
Room Service; $7.95: All regular room service items (sandwiches, salads, desserts) incur a fee per order (not per item). General room service is available from 11 a.m. to 6 a.m. and features dishes like chicken fettuccine alfredo, grilled salmon, chicken wings or a personal pizza.
There's also a 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.
The ship boasts 1,642 staterooms. Of these 1,001 have an ocean view. Suites number 119 and there are 652 balcony staterooms. Twenty-four of them offer stunning floor-to-ceiling windows for panoramic views. There are 642 are interior staterooms, of which 81 boast the new virtual balconies: floor-to-ceiling TV screens that provide live HD views from outside the cruise ship, right into your stateroom. Twenty-six cabins in total are wheelchair accessible. A hallmark of this ship's class is the Royal Promenade-facing staterooms (138 on this ship) that overlook that engaging thoroughfare -- these are a step up from the usual inside cabin. A warning, however: Privacy is at a premium with these cabins because they do not have privacy glass windows. Also, due to the late-night revelling that goes on, all but night owls may find them noisy.
Standard cabins are comfortably spacious and attractively decorated in earth tones with art on the walls, quality fabrics and fine woods. All cabins feature twin beds that can convert to queen-size, phone, flat-screen television with closed circuit and satellite programming options, minibar, hair dryer and individually controlled air-conditioning. Bathrooms are basic and only suites have tubs. The showers, however, have wonderful, half-round sliding doors, a fabulous improvement over icky, clingy shower curtains. Soap and shampoo are provided (suites get mini-bottles of Royal Caribbean's Vitality shampoo, conditioner and lotion).
Interior: These cabins range from 150 to 256 square feet. Category G cabins, inside with Royal Promenade views, have blackout curtains and special glass in the windows to reduce noise.
Ocean View: Outside cabins come in three varieties: regular (160 square feet), large (178 square feet) and family (265 square feet).
Balcony: Balcony cabins range from 164 to 275 square feet with 42- to 52-square-foot private verandas.
Minisuite: Moving up a notch is the Junior Suite. It's the smallest, coming in at 264 square feet with a 75-square-foot balcony. Bigger than the standard balcony, the extra perks (beyond space) that come with the Junior Suite include a tub in the bathroom, and a bigger living room area.
Suite: The remaining suites provide access to the concierge and definitely move into the higher-ticket arena. All suite-holders are entitled to use the Concierge Club on Deck 9. This windowless room features a continental breakfast and a cocktail hour. Upon request, the concierge on duty will make reservations on your behalf.
The Grand Suite is just a larger "junior," but it's quite a bit larger at 349 square feet and features a 100 square-foot balcony.
At 561 square feet, the Royal Family Suite's grand claim is two bedrooms plus a sitting room; the second bedroom has the usual twin to queen bed configuration plus two Pullmans that come down from the ceiling. There are also two bathrooms, one with a shower and one with a bathtub. Balconies are bigger, too, at 246 square feet.
The Owner's Suite offers more amenities and features even beyond increased square footage; passengers booking this category of accommodations get a bathroom with bathtub, bidet and separate shower, along with a separate bedroom and living areas (with a queen-size sofa bed). Measurements are 559 square feet for the cabin and 90 square feet for the verandah.
The piece de resistance is the Royal Suite. Coming in at a whopping 1,087 square feet, it comes with all the Owner's Suite amenities plus a baby grand piano, whirlpool in the bathroom and a balcony that measures 217 square feet complete with hot tub and better-than-standard furnishings, including a dining table and chairs.
Special: The new Panoramic Ocean View staterooms are more spacious and come in a variety of configurations, but all boast floor-to-ceiling wraparound panoramic windows (191 to 406 square feet).
Tip: Families should book as far in advance as possible -- a year ahead of time if you can -- to have the best choice of family-friendly staterooms (including connecting cabins), particularly if you are travelling during school vacation periods.