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Honest Review Of The Onboard Experience On Royal Caribbean

Was the Royal Caribbean Onboard Experience better than our experience planning the cruise? You can now read (or watch) both parts to find out all the details of what went right, what went wrong, and whether or not we’ll cruise with Royal Caribbean again.


CONTENTS



Positives of the Royal Caribbean Onboard Experience


Easy Boarding Process

The boarding process was extremely easy. We handed our big suitcase over almost immediately after stepping out of our cab for them to take to our room for us, then proceeded to the gate. They checked our passports and vaccine cards three different times before we even set foot into the processing pavilion, but it only took a few minutes total so we didn’t mind - I would say we actually appreciated it because it meant that they were taking COVID vaccination status seriously, so we ended up feeling much safer onboard. Once inside they checked our reservations, gave us wristbands confirming our vaccination status that we would have to wear for the entire cruise (they were durable and waterproof), and then we were through onto the ship, where we were immediately directed by a friendly employee to where we needed to go for our Muster Drill (a safety briefing so you’ll know where to go if there’s a ship emergency). The best part was that ours was right next to a bar! The whole boarding process took less than 30 minutes.


Throughout our research, we found a lot of things that said we may not have access to our rooms for a while on the first day, so we should pack a small carry-on bag with things that we would need for that day. While the carry-on bag did come in handy because our bags didn’t make it to our room for a few hours (they have a lot to deliver!), we did have immediate access to our room. We were able to safely stow our backpacks and only take what we needed to wander around the ship, which was a big plus.


Friendly Employees

There were a lot of positives during the actual cruise experience once we were onboard the ship, the biggest being that all of the employees on the ship were extremely friendly. Every Royal Caribbean employee we encountered was eager to help us with any issues we had, and after one or two days, most of them were calling us by our names without having to look it up in the computer system. The bartenders also remembered what drinks we preferred and would ask if that’s what we wanted as soon as we walked up. This treatment (which we’re told is common on cruises), made us feel like we were at a much higher-end establishment than the deal we’d received to cruise with Royal Caribbean.


Adults Only Solarium Pool On Explorer Of The Seas Cruise Ship By Royal Caribbean

Limited Capacity Sailing and COVID Safety

Another very positive aspect is that the ship was sailing at limited capacity due to the pandemic. This made for a much more relaxed ship, while raising the staff to cruiser ratio from 1:5 to 1:3. The pools were never crowded and the hot tubs almost always had room (save for a couple of times when the adults-only solarium was crowded).


For the most part, we both felt very safe in regards to COVID while onboard the ship. Everyone on the ship who was eligible for COVID-19 vaccination was required to be fully vaccinated before being allowed to get onboard, staff and guests alike, plus a supervised negative COVID test taken within 48 hours of boarding was also required to get on the ship, further extending the feeling of safety. Masks were required when wandering around the indoor areas on the ship, unless you were ‘actively’ eating or drinking, but this rule wasn’t always as enforced as it could have been. This became an issue for the cruise that left after us on the Explorer of the Seas, as the omicron variant ravaged the ship, canceling several ports of call and cutting that cruise short. Mask mandates have been constantly evolving since then, so if that’s a concern for you, make sure you do your research before you go.


Deluxe Drink Package

Due to the limited capacity, and the fact that there are so many bars on the Explorer of the Seas ship, the bar service was extremely quick and efficient. The drink package was well worth the money, as every consumable drink was available via the drink package, save for the extremely high-end stuff. It was nice to belly up to a bar and not have to worry about how much you’re spending on a particular drink. It also allowed you to try new cocktails and some of the higher-end alcohols without spending any extra money.


Adults-Only Areas

The adults-only solarium was a huge upside to cruising with Royal Caribbean because it’s such a family-oriented cruise line. We prefer a not-overrun-by-screaming-children vibe, but all the adults-only cruise lines are way more expensive. Granted, when we cruised, there were not a ton of children on the ship (less than 2 dozen from my running count as the week progressed), but knowing that there was an adults-only area with a bar, natural-water pool, and two big hot tubs was an enticing positive for choosing to cruise with Royal Caribbean.



Dinners in the Main Dining Room

The food offered during dinner service in the main dining room was fantastic. All meals are included as part of your cruise package and features a different menu every night, with some staple items included every day to keep the picky eaters happy. Every night there was the ability to try something that would normally be out of your price range, like escargot. While there were a few things that had an upcharge (such as lobster), you can order as many of the starters, entrees, side courses, or desserts as you like at no extra charge!


Yes, there are specialty dining restaurants onboard the ship that you can choose to go to (and they will try to sell you on), but they cost extra. Since the dinner menu changed every night in the main dining room and it has a perfectly great atmosphere with excellent service, we didn’t see the need to spend any extra money.


For your dinner service in the main dining room, when booking your cruise, you are given options of your dinner time every day, called My Time Dining. It’s important to note that this will be your dinner time every single night (unless you’re going to a specialty restaurant), so be aware of that when choosing your time. The options for our cruise were 6pm or 8:30pm, but they may vary slightly depending on the sailing. We decided on the 8:30pm time slot so we would have more time to enjoy the ship and watch the sunset after returning from our shore excursions before getting ready for dinner, plus the time difference would be 4 hours ahead for us, so be sure to take all those things into consideration when picking your time.


The upside of having the same dinner time every night is that it allowed us to meet up with all 10 of our friends at the end of each day and regale each other with stories of the adventures we’d had while ashore or on the ship that day. Also, we had the same two servers and floor manager attending us every night, providing incredible formal dining service that would normally be out of our price-range back home.


Prime Rib Dinner In Main Dining Room On Royal Caribbean Explorer Of The Seas Included Food

Negatives


Food Allergy Mishaps

Despite the fantastic service from our wait staff, mistakes still happened. One person in our party is extremely allergic to tomatoes and had to have food sent back, twice. The first time was during a breakfast meal and it was caught immediately, but the second time, the tomato was under a cut of prime rib that she’d been eating (it was meant to be a garnish but somehow ended up under the protein). She quickly excused herself and took care of it without it affecting the next day, but it was a very scary situation.


Royal Caribbean had protocols in place to inform the dining staff to prevent this from happening; Phoebe sent an email to Royal Caribbean a few months before the cruise to alert them of food allergies within our group, including a tomato allergy, a shrimp allergy, pepper avoidance, and pescatarian and gluten-free preferences. They had the information attached to our reservations long before we even set foot on the ship, then Phoebe even went down to the main dining room on the afternoon of embarkation day to check that they had all the info. Needless to say, the staff was horrified by the hidden tomato and a chef in the kitchen was reprimanded. The floor manager sent their dessert to their stateroom and gave them a couple bottles of wine as a gift to apologize for the mistake. The servers, who by this point, we’d gotten to know quite well, were extremely concerned about the mistake; it was comforting to know if they’d been in the kitchen, this would not have happened.


Windjammer Buffet Dining Room On Explorer Of The Seas Cruise Ship From Royal Caribbean

Buffet Madness

The Windjammer buffet on the Explorer of the Seas was always insanely busy during breakfast and lunch. The Windjammer was only one of three eateries open during lunch-time (along with the Cafe Promenade, which is included with the cruise fare and has a few snack items, or Johnny Rockets, which was the only specialty dining open during lunch and would have cost extra), so the buffet was always packed. The food was tasty, and they did make everyone wash their hands upon entering the large room, but it was still too packed for our taste, coming in the middle of a pandemic, and it always felt chaotic.


The hours that the Windjammer was open was also quite confusing: breakfast ended by 10am, then closed to prep for lunch, but lunch service ended by 3pm, when most shore excursions were ending and a large majority of the ship’s guests were returning, hungry to eat. Since the Windjammer was closed and the only other cruise-fare-included option was the Cafe Promenade, the line for their simple sandwiches or slices of pizza ran down the entire promenade. The quick bite that Cafe Promenade offered turned into waiting in line for 30 minutes, only to find out today was Southwestern Day and everything contained peppers, which some members of our party can’t eat. It definitely seemed like Royal Caribbean was not-so-subtly trying to get people to spend money on the one specialty dining that was open for lunchtime: Johnny Rockets.


Pink Caribbean Sunset View From Top Of Explorer Of The Seas Royal Caribbean Cruise Ship

(More) Poor Communication

One ongoing issue with Royal Caribbean (as we talked about extensively in our review of the cruise planning process), is the lack of communication, which also affected us onboard with a confusing room service incident. We wanted to have some bottled water sent up to our stateroom to stock in our mini-fridge, which we were told would be included with the Deluxe Beverage Package that we’d both purchased, but when we asked our room attendant to send up some water bottles, it arrived with a bill for $35 for the six (very fancy looking) bottles of water. Rather than fight it, we assumed it was a mistake on our part, and just paid the bill, but what could and couldn’t be sent up to our room was not made clear by Royal Caribbean and the staff on the ship.


Continuing the issues with communication were when the two formal nights would be onboard the ship. No one ever specifically told us how ‘formal’ the formal nights were on the ship (or that they were even happening, actually - we only knew they would be happening because we asked). Some in our party are not inclined to wear suit jackets (or closed-toe shoes for that matter) and between the two formal nights, it appeared that the criteria for how formal it was changed. Regardless, there was no information available and there was a lot of talk within our group if one of our party would be turned away because of attire that broke the ‘formal’ rules. It did happen once, as a member of our party was wearing a t-shirt, but he went back to his room, threw on a button-up shirt (which he didn’t button up) and they let him in. It would’ve been nice to know what to expect on these two nights, because we wouldn’t have known to pack for it at all if we hadn’t asked.


Wi-Fi and Royal Caribbean’s App Chat Feature

Another disappointing aspect was the available wi-fi aboard the ship. Most of our party paid for on-board wi-fi but it became a running joke about how it simply didn’t work. It’s understandable, as it’s a ship in open water, but we’re well into the 2020s and dependable wi-fi shouldn’t be an issue, especially when you’re charged extra for the service.


This folds into the new chat feature within the Royal Caribbean App that was promoted while we were preparing for the cruise. Royal Caribbean was adamant that you’d be able to use this new chat feature within their app for easy communication between everyone in your party; you just need to download the Royal Caribbean app, open up the chat option, and everyone whose reservations are connected to yours would automatically be available for you to stay in touch with while on the ship - for free. The problem is that, not only were all of our reservations not properly connected, but we were never able to find most of our friends in the chat program, even when we searched for their specific name, and even when those people had paid for wi-fi service. Even with all 12 of us sitting in the same room, Royal Caribbean apps open, searching for each other, we couldn’t find everyone. It was very frustrating and quite disappointing, as it appears that Royal Caribbean spent a lot of money promoting this new service and it just doesn’t work yet.


Interior Room Bed On Explorer Of The Seas Royal Caribbean Cruise Ship

Room Upgrade Process

We also had some issues with switching rooms. After one night in an interior stateroom, our group of friends decided to upgrade our room for Phoebe’s birthday, to give us a room with a balcony view out to the sea. It was extremely generous of them and the process should have gone smoothly, but it didn’t. It was late on the second day when they upgraded us, and I was given a key card to the new room, with Phoebe’s key card staying with the old room until we could move our stuff. After we repacked our suitcase and hauled it up to the new room, the new key card didn’t work and I had to spend a considerable amount of time at customer service to get it sorted while Phoebe and our friends waited with all our stuff in the hallway outside the new room. My key did finally work that evening and we were able to sleep in the new room that night, but Phoebe’s new key card wasn’t activated until almost 2 days later. It seemed very odd, considering that Royal Caribbean wants people to upgrade to the more expensive rooms once they’re onboard.


That being said, a few of our friends were given the option to bid for room upgrades before we even left home, and some got to move up a tier for considerably less money than they would have paid if they had booked that type of room upfront. We weren’t even given the option to bid.


Balcony Room On Explorer Of The Seas Cruise Ship By Royal Caribbean

Disembarkation

Disembarkation on the last day was also quite confusing (more not-so-great communication), especially for those of us who were cruising for the first time. We were given a number on our Cruise Compass the day before and we were told to watch the Royal Caribbean television which would let us know when our number was called. It gave the impression that we had to sit and wait in our cabin for our number to come up, but we found out later that the numbers were called out over the intercom system, so we moved down with our party to hang out together on the promenade and wait for our number to be called. All six rooms of our 12 person party were given different disembarkation times, which seemed odd, since all of us were traveling together. We ended up all waiting until the end when all of our numbers had come up before any of us got off the ship. It seems like the system could be run smoother, but again, this is mainly due to the lack of communication from Royal Caribbean, because Phoebe made multiple phone calls to get all of our reservations officially connected.


Preferred Names

However, what was probably our biggest negative onboard experience with Royal Caribbean was their inability to add a preferred name in their onboard system. Anytime you interact with an employee onboard the ship (to order a drink, go to dinner, etc), they pull up your reservation and call you by name. While this is a great way to make service feel more personal, it is not a unique situation for people to go by preferred names rather than their given, legal names, and many people who go by names other than that do so for very specific, personal reasons.


It makes sense that your legal name needs to be in their system, as they use these manifests to quickly expedite arrival and departure at the port cities every day (which are sometimes different countries from the one you departed from on the cruise), but it’s very frustrating to have a bartender call you by a name you don’t use ‘because that’s what’s in the system’. In our modern age, a simple extra field of ‘Preferred Name’ would not be difficult to implement and it would allow those who don’t go by their legal name to feel more comfortable while enjoying their cruise.


To the staff’s credit, after being told a few times, they would remember the preferred name and use that exclusively. For a company that obviously cares so much about their staff knowing the guests by name, this should be a no-brainer.


Mini Golf Course On Explorer Of The Seas Royal Caribbean Cruise Ship

Onboard Activities

The Explorer of the Seas ship has a ton of activities to enjoy, day and night, including

  • Themed trivia

  • Karaoke

  • 2 pools and 4 hot tubs open to everyone

  • 1 pool and 2 hot tubs in the adults-only Solarium

  • Mini golf

  • A surf simulator

  • Rock climbing

  • Basketball

  • Live theater shows

  • Intimate live music

  • Dance clubs

  • Ice skating

  • Gambling

  • A spa for massages, manicures, etc.

  • Outdoor movie nights

  • A small arcade

  • Art auctions

  • Fitness classes

  • 10 Bars and Lounges


There were an incredible amount of activities onboard, which gave us an appreciation for cruise sea days that we didn't have when we picked this cruise. We thought of cruising more as paying for the travel to get to different islands but now we know it's more than that because the cruise ship is a myriad of experiences in itself. Sure, we had the option to not disembark and take advantage of the ship, but we’d never been to any of the islands before and wanted to go see and do all the fun things that only the islands could provide.


One of the best tools for planning your day was the Cruise Compass that the room attendant would leave in the late afternoon after cleaning your room each day. It listed all of the scheduled activities for the next day, including info about the island you’re visiting, port times, theater performances, art sales, specialty drinks available at the bars, and pretty much everything you’d need, if you hadn’t pre-planned your cruise.


However, don’t expect every activity/event listed on the Explorer of the Seas page on Royal Caribbean’s website to be available on every sailing. While there’s plenty to do, don’t get too attached to any one particular event. Some of the things they have listed on the website that we didn’t see on our sailing include the parades, classes, and several of the live theater shows. This also could have been due to the fact that it was a limited capacity sailing, but just be aware.


Folded Towel Dog On Royal Caribbean Explorer Of The Seas Cruise

Verdict

Much as we expected, the onboard experience was far superior to the actual planning of the cruise. If you are able to afford to have a professional travel agent plan your cruise, you’ll be much happier and more stress-free as you enter into your cruise vacation, but we realize that isn’t the case for almost everyone (us included), which is why we want to share our full experience with you.


Would we cruise again? For sure. Both of us had a great time on the trip, island-hopping around the Caribbean with our friends. We probably won’t cruise with Royal Caribbean again, though. The company relies heavily on their onboard staff to sell the cruise line, and they do a fantastic job of that, so it’s a shame that the office staff doesn’t do more to match the level of service provided by the onboard staff. We’ll definitely shop around for our next cruise and most likely avoid Royal Caribbean entirely in the future.


Despite all that, we had a fantastic time on the islands we visited, so stay tuned through our newsletter (sign up below!) for tips on how to plan your own cruise and to see the amazing adventures we had in the Caribbean on the Explorer of the Seas!


Quick Reference Guide

Positives:

  • Most employees were very friendly & helpful

  • The pools & hot tubs didn't feel crowded

  • It was quick & easy to get drinks for the most part

  • Included cruise fare food offerings are fantastic

  • So much stuff to do

Negatives:

  • Unable to change guest names to preferred names

  • Incidents with food allergies

  • The buffet felt chaotic & crowded

  • What was and wasn’t included with drink packages

  • Overly complicating switching rooms once on board


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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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