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In The Great Wide Travel Blog Royal Caribbean Explorer Of The Seas Cruise Ship Review

We took Royal Caribbean’s Explorer of the Seas cruise ship on my 30th birthday cruise to the Southern Caribbean, spending 7 nights with 10 of our friends island-hopping to 7 islands. It was a crazy week that we will never forget! Even though we did a ton of stuff on the islands, in this article, we’re reviewing the cruise ship itself.


CONTENTS



History of Explorer of the Seas and General Info

Explorer of the Seas was commissioned by Royal Caribbean and built in Finland in 2000, with its maiden voyage in October 2000. It’s just over 1,000 feet long, which seems quite large, but it’s actually a mid-size cruise ship.


The full guest capacity of the ship is 4,290, with a crew capacity of 1,185, meaning it’s an almost 1 to 4 ratio of crew to guests. When we sailed, it was definitely not that many, due to COVID restrictions, so the ship felt even more spacious than it usually would.


Royal Caribbean has different “classes” (aka tiers) of cruise ships, and each class is a different size ship with different amenities. Explorer of the Seas is a Voyager Class ship.


Although it was supposed to receive some major upgrades in 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic put a stop to most of them. So no water slides, no laser tag, and no ziplines, but some new specialty dining options and a surf simulator help give this older ship a new feel.


In The Great Wide Travel Lifestyle Blog Short Ribs In Main Dining Room On Royal Caribbean Explorer Of The Seas Cruise Ship

Food on Explorer of the Seas

Explorer of the Seas has three options for dining that are included with your cruise fare plus a bunch of specialty dining options.


The Main Dining Room is three floors, open for breakfast and dinner, and included in your cruise fare. No reservations are needed for breakfast, unless you have a large group, and you will have the option to choose your dinner time when you make your cruise reservation, which we highly recommend over the My Time Dining option. Having the same dinner reservation every night allowed us to get to know our wait staff in a way you can’t without a scheduled dining time.


The dinner menu changes every night, with a few staple items that carry over, and you can order as much as food as you want without extra cost (unless you’re ordering premium items like lobster). The variety of the menu is enough to avoid specialty dining, if you don’t want to spend extra money, and it allowed us to enjoy some foods that are usually out of our price range.


In The Great Wide Travel Lifestyle Blog Breakfast At Windjammer Buffet On Royal Caribbean Explorer Of The Seas

The Windjammer is an enormous buffet that is open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. It’s one of the biggest buffets we’ve ever seen, with multiple stations throughout an expansive dining room, but it often felt like absolute chaos, even though we were on a limited capacity sailing. At least there’s a full bar with a coffee bar attached right at the entrance after the required hand-washing station, so you don’t have to go somewhere else to hunt down a mimosa or latte in the morning.


Some tables in the Windjammer are next to large windows with great views off the ship (Pro tip: head to the very back of the buffet for the best luck at snagging one). Unfortunately though, the buffet is closed sporadically throughout the day to get ready for the next meal. Plan accordingly, as you may get back from an excursion with only the Cafe Promenade as an eating option (that’s included with the cruise fare) - and the line can get pretty long.


In The Great Wide Travel Lifestyle Blog Egg Sandwiches and Pizza At Cafe Promenade On Royal Caribbean Explorer Of The Seas Cruise Ship

The Cafe Promenade is on the 5th deck Royal Promenade and it is the only eating establishment that is included with your cruise fare that is open 24 hours. They serve finger sandwiches, desserts, some side dishes, and pizza, although not all food options are available in the late night. They have a window case with examples of what they’re offering at that time (just like what you’d see at a normal cafe, but it changes a lot), but it could get frustrating waiting for other guests to decide what they want. Unfortunately, menus weren’t really available to help you choose what you want to order before you get to the front of the line, and if you have an uncommon food allergy, you may just be out of luck sometimes.


The busiest time at Cafe Promenade is in the middle of the afternoon when passengers are coming back from shore excursions, which is usually when the Windjammer is closed (bad timing, if you ask us). During that window of time, the line to get food at the cafe could stretch half-way down the promenade, even on our limited capacity sailing, so plan accordingly.


Note - At the time we’re writing this, Royal Caribbean’s website now shows that Explorer of the Seas features Sorrento’s Pizza as another eating option that’s included in your cruise fare, but it’s not shown on the deck plans. Perhaps this is an indication of more upgrades that they’re planning after scrapping most of the upgrades they had planned for the ship in 2020. It sure would help alleviate the long lines at Cafe Promenade during those busy afternoon hours.


Just outside Cafe Promenade, there’s also a counter where you can walk up just to order specialty coffees or ice cream, but those are not included in your cruise fare. If you have the Deluxe Drink Package, the specialty coffees (which is any coffee/espresso drink other than regular coffee, such as a latte, cappuccino, chai latte, etc) are included in the beverage package, but the Ben & Jerry’s ice cream will still cost you extra.


In The Great Wide Travel Lifestyle Blog Sushi Tempura At Izumi On Royal Caribbean Explorer Of The Seas Cruise Ship

There are also several specialty dining options on Explorer of the Seas that you can pay extra for if you choose. We didn’t, but almost all of our friends did for one or two dinners and thoroughly enjoyed it. Most will have one set price per person that you pay up-front, then you get to choose from their selections for a multi-course meal.


Specialty Dining Restaurants on Explorer of the Seas:

  • Chops Grille is Royal Caribbean’s signature American steakhouse that also includes fresh seafood like crab, lobster, mussels, and clams.

  • Giovanni’s Table is an Italian trattoria serving up family-style dining in a lavish Tuscany-inspired restaurant.

  • Izumi offers traditional Asian cuisine and specializes in incredible sushi.

  • Chef’s Table is a fine-dining restaurant with a Chef de Cuisine personally presenting each course, while an experienced sommelier pairs each course with a fine wine.

  • Johnny Rockets is a retro diner serving burgers, milkshakes, and the like. It is the only specialty dining restaurant open for lunch too.


Throughout your stay on the ship (and especially for the first day or two), crew members will offer discounts on specialty dining, but you can also buy specialty dining packages before your cruise or simply book your specialty dining through the app once you’re on the ship (although you may or may not get a better deal booking through the ship’s crew). A few members of our group took advantage of offers from the crew and scored 30% discounts to Izumi and Chops Grille.


Pro tip: if you’re on a low capacity sailing, it could be worth it to wait to book speciality dining until getting on board, as you can haggle for deeper discounts as they attempt to fill the specialty restaurants every night.


Royal Caribbean Explorer Of The Seas Cruise Ship Sky Bar and Pool Bar By In The Great Wide Travel Blog

Bars on Explorer of the Seas

There are 10 bars on the Explorer of the Seas that you can access as a first-time guest, plus one that is restricted access for higher-up members of Royal Caribbean’s loyalty program, the Crown & Anchor Society, and another that is restricted for passengers in the high-end suites.

  • Crown & Kettle is an English pub located on the Royal Promenade (aka the main walkway in the middle of the ship). This was probably our favorite bar hangout on the ship and acted as a perfect meeting spot for our friends. On some nights, they have an acoustic guitarist playing live music. You can even grab a snack from Cafe Promenade to bring in.

  • Schooner Bar is a classy nautical-themed bar where they would also regularly have live music, such as a pianist, a jazz trio, or an acoustic guitarist. They also held short, fun pub trivia multiple times throughout our week-long cruise.

  • The Pool Bar is exactly what it sounds like. A bar right next to the main pools.

  • The Solarium Bar is exactly like the pool bar, only it’s in the adults-only Solarium pool area.

  • Sky Bar is another just like the pool bar, only it’s located on the deck above the pools, offering great ocean views.

  • Dizzy’s is the nightclub bar and lounge, located all the way up on deck 14.

  • Star Lounge is a large venue where they’ll sometimes have live music, dancing, and even karaoke!

  • The Tavern is a simple bar outside the Main Dining Room and Casino. It’s a perfect spot to grab a quick drink to enjoy while walking around the ship, but it’s also the spot to watch sports if you’re into that.

  • R Bar is a classy bar and lounge with a retro feel just off the Royal Promenade.

  • The Casino Bar is exactly what it sounds like - a bar in the middle of the casino. We spent a lot of time hanging out here while our friends played Blackjack at the tables nearby and the bartenders were great!

  • Suite Lounge - Restricted for guests of Grand Suite-level accommodations and above, they serve complimentary continental breakfast and evening drinks.

  • Diamond Club - Restricted for Crown & Anchor Society members with Diamond, Diamond Plus, and Pinnacle Club status.


There’s also a bar in the Windjammer and in the Palace Theater, and of course you can order drinks in the main dining room and at all of the specialty dining restaurants. The bars seemed to have the same crew working at the same times every day, which gives you a chance to really get to know them (and they you). It was incredible how many of the onboard employees remembered us by name, and several of the bartenders remembered exactly what we liked to drink too!


While you can order most of the same drinks from every bar, each one has its own specialty cocktails, but there will also be a daily specialty drink that’s ship-wide that you can get at every bar. We made an evening out of doing a bar crawl around the ship with our friends one night and had a lot of fun!


The bars mostly close down around midnight, depending on how many guests are still out drinking. The Casino bar is open the latest, as proven when they finally kicked us out at 3:30am the first night. The Pool Bar and Solarium Bar have cocktail servers going around taking drink orders so you don’t have to ruin your cruise vibe by getting out of the hot tub, but it does take longer to get your drink than if you just walk up to the bar yourself. Our advice: stop by the bar to pick up your first drink on your way to getting in the pool/hot tub, then order your next drink from a cocktail server when you’re half-way done.


However, be aware that in the main dining room, our servers worked really hard to make sure our drinks were never empty. They often brought us another round without us asking, which was fantastic most times, but made us feel a little bad sending a drink back when we wanted to order something different. It wasn’t uncommon for us to have 3 drinks in front of us at dinner.


Royal Caribbean Explorer Of The Seas Cruise Ship Adults Only Solarium Pool By In The Great Wide Travel Blog

Stuff To Do on Explorer of the Seas

There is so much to do on the ship that we didn’t even come close to doing all of it, but here’s what we did get to:

  • Pools and hot tubs, plus an adults-only Solarium with its own pool and hot tubs

  • 9 holes of mini golf (which is incredibly fun to do while the ship is on the open sea)

  • An arcade (that was slightly disappointing as every other machine was off due to COVID restrictions)

  • Karaoke (usually done in 1 hour increments)

  • Pub trivia (played one round at a time, often with fun themes)

  • Live music in a couple of the bars

  • DJs that would sometimes pop up in the Promenade, but were usually in Dizzy’s, the nightclub

  • Live theater shows including comedy and aerial acrobats. This is just the stuff we managed to get to while also visiting six islands.


Other stuff that’s available that we didn’t get to:

  • FlowRider surf simulator (which was popular with the kids that were onboard)

  • Rock climbing wall (I was bummed we didn’t have time for this one)

  • Ice skating (plus an ice skating show)

  • Basketball (also doubled as a volleyball court)

  • Movie nights on the pool deck on a big projector

  • Spa for massages, manicures, etc.

  • Gym with multiple early-morning classes

  • Art auction

  • Professional photo shoot (which was really popular on the formal nights)


We didn’t do all of the activities because we just didn’t have time. Hitting up a new island every day cut out 6-8 hours of ship time, and a lot of the activities took place during the day. This isn’t a downside by any means, as it meant that Royal Caribbean was offering such a wide variety of activities, that you’d be hard-pressed to get bored on the ship.


However, Royal Caribbean also lists a bunch of other activities on their website for Explorer of the Seas, such as parades, theme nights, and tons of classes, but we didn’t see those during our cruise. That may have just been because it was a limited capacity sailing, but it taught us to not get too attached to one specific activity that’s listed on their website.


Royal Caribbean Explorer Of The Seas Balcony Stateroom By In The Great Wide Travel Blog

Staterooms on Explorer of the Seas

For all of you first-time cruisers (like we were), “staterooms” is just what they call all of the rooms on cruises. For how that term was used historically, it doesn’t make sense that they use it to refer to all the rooms, but that just seems to be the industry standard.


Explorer of the Seas has many different types of staterooms, though, ranging from interior (a small room with no windows on the inside of the ship) to what they call a Royal Suite (a luxurious suite with a mini bar, piano, large bathroom, and a large private balcony completed with a small jacuzzi). We booked an interior stateroom, simply choosing the least expensive option because we don’t spend much time in our hotel rooms when we travel, but after the first night onboard, our friends decided they wanted to pay a small charge to have us upgraded to a balcony room as a thank you for organizing the trip & as a birthday gift. It was such a wonderful gift!


We’ll write a whole other article just about the staterooms so we can share everything we learned to make sure you get the one that will be the right fit for you.


Royal Caribbean Explorer Of The Seas Cruise Ship Docked In St. Thomas By In The Great Wide Travel Blog

Where Does Explorer of the Seas Sail?

When we sailed on Explorer of the Seas, our cruise began and ended in San Juan, Puerto Rico, and took us on an amazing itinerary to the Southern Caribbean and back. Since then, the ship seems to mostly be sailing in and out of Miami to all kinds of destinations in the Caribbean, but they also have some European sailings and even some sailings that will cross between Europe and Florida (meaning the cruise will start in one and end in the other). So if you’re interested in sailing on Explorer of the Seas, you have plenty of options!


Our Verdict

While our experience with Royal Caribbean was not entirely as pleasant as we expected, given the cruise line’s many awards, we had a great time with our friends on Explorer of the Seas. I’m interested to see what upgrades they eventually do with this older ship, but we were still really impressed with it as it is now, since it was the first cruise ship either of us had ever been on.


We are going to shop around for a different cruise line for our next cruise, but if you find a great deal on a great itinerary on Explorer of the Seas, there are far worse ways to spend a vacation. Just take our advice from Part 1 of our Royal Caribbean Review and find someone else to plan the trip for you! You can also read more about our Onboard Experience in Part 2 of our Royal Caribbean Review, where we discuss in detail what we loved on the cruise (such as the impressive employees), what went wrong (including food allergy mishaps), and where Royal Caribbean definitely needs improvement.


Royal Caribbean Cruise Ship Explorer Of The Seas Docked In St. Lucia By In The Great Wide Travel Blog

Quick Reference Guide

What

Explorer of the Seas cruise ship owned by Royal Caribbean

Where it Sails

All over the Caribbean, but sometimes in Europe too

Capacity

4,290 guests + 1,185 crew, giving a 4:1 guest to crew ratio

Pros

Tons of stuff to do, excellent crew, has adults-only areas

Cons

Upgrades scheduled for 2020 have been indefinitely postponed, meaning no water slides, laser tag, or ziplines, see Part 2 of our Royal Caribbean Onboard Experience Review for more

Cost

Depends on the sailing you choose, but we got our 7 night cruise for $535 per person!

Reservation Info

Our Verdict

Even though it’s an old ship, she’s still impressive! Especially for first-time cruisers. Be beware of planning hassles with Royal Caribbean!


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In The Great Wide Travel Lifestyle Blog Phoebe and Adam at the Scotch Whisky Experience in Edinburgh, Scotland

We’re Phoebe & Adam
the couple behind
In The Great Wide!

This is our travel lifestyle blog where we not only share stories from our adventures while traveling the world, but also our thorough research of the places we visit & practical advice on how to save money so you can travel more too!

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