This Southern Caribbean cruise on Explorer of the Seas was a trip full of firsts for me. This was my first time sailing the Southern Caribbean, my time sailing Royal Caribbean, my first time sailing with a balcony, my first time sailing with friends, and my first cruise with a port every day. A lot of new experiences, to be sure!
My first impression of the ship is that while it is one of the older ships in the Royal Caribbean fleet and it was due for an upgrade in 2020 that got put on the back burner, it is a beautiful ship. The decorations were more elegant than the two Norwegian ships I’ve been on, but not as over the top as Carnival. Everything was clean and they were committed to keeping the guests healthy.
With a port every day on this cruise, we barely had time to enjoy our balcony. This wasn’t that big of a deal to us because when we booked this cruise, an ocean view was actually more expensive than a balcony. I was really excited to finally cruise with a balcony but I was disappointed by how little we actually used it. Our next cruise has several sea days so I’m hoping to get more use out of the balcony. If you are looking at a cruise with a port every day, save your money and get an ocean view. There’s not that much time to actually utilize your balcony.
The activities and entertainment onboard are where Royal shines. Even though we had a port every day, there was still a lot to do on the ship. Where Norwegian would have trivia once a day, there were 3 or 4 trivia games every day. We played pickleball and mini-golf. We went ice skating. We even tried the Flow Rider. Tip for ladies, if you are wanting to try the Flow Rider (the onboard surfing/boogie boarding simulator) bring a one-piece swimsuit. The first time, I did well until I felt like was going to lose my bottoms and then I was just trying to figure out how to get off it. We probably wouldn’t have done so much if we weren’t traveling with friends who were first-time cruisers and wanted to try everything, but I was really glad we did.
The Explorer didn’t have any big Broadway-style shows during our trip, but all of the shows we saw were top-notch. The ice show was spectacular and how many people can say they saw an ice show or went ice skating on a cruise ship? The singers and dancers were great. They had a group of Argentinian Bolo Dancers on the ship called Impact! and it wasn’t something I had ever seen before.
The cruise director on the ship, Elvis, was one of the best cruise directors I have ever had. He was fun and engaging and was funnier than the comedian they had on board. If you’re ever lucky to sail on a Royal ship with Elvis, you are in for a treat!
The only area where I can complain about the Explorer of the Seas is the dining. We had My Time Dining and I assumed it would work like Norwegian’s Freestyle Dining and I was very wrong about that. While you don’t have to make reservations for My Time Dining, it is recommended. Since this was my first Royal cruise, I didn’t realize you could reserve this before getting on the ship so we were left with late dining times every night because that was all that was available. I want to say it was on the second night of the cruise, even with a reservation we waited an hour in line for a table. After that, we learned to just get there earlier, but no one wants to spend their vacation waiting in line.
My other complaint is that they increased the capacity of the ship (our sailing was close to 100% full) but they were not staffed for that! Dining was the area where this was the most obvious. By the end of our cruise, the buffet was back to being self-serve so hopefully, that will allow additional staff to be serving in the dining room. But, the servers all seemed like they were stretched too thin. In the section we were seated the first two nights, our server came up and asked our table and the table next to us if anyone wanted drinks. Since someone at the other table said no, none of us got drinks. We ended up flagging down the assistant waiter and getting a drink, but we shouldn’t have had to do that. After the second time of this bad service, we asked the host if we could sit in a different section and the service was much better.
We ordered the complimentary continental breakfast room service for the first day before we headed to St. Thomas. We ordered it with an hour buffer and it did not arrive before we had to meet our group on the pier. So, we snorkeled on an empty stomach. Luckily our tour included snacks so we survived until lunch back on the ship but it was very disappointing. The following day we received chocolate-covered strawberries as an apology and that was nice, but it didn’t make up for the fact that we had to go to shore on an empty stomach. We just had breakfast at the buffet for the rest of the cruise.
We did try two of the specialty restaurants: Chops Grill and Izumi. Chops is Royal’s steakhouse. The steaks were great and the atmosphere was relaxed, but it was expensive. I would rather just pay the upcharge for the Chop’s Filet in the dining room and call it a day. Izumi on the other hand was fantastic! One of the friends we traveled with, Joe, was adamant that he doesn’t like sushi and after this experience, he told his wife that he wants to be included when she has sushi with her friends. We learned that you don’t have to book Izumi in advance and pay the $35 fee for this meal. Everything they serve is priced a la carte and we had a hard time reaching $35 per person. Look at all that sushi on that table (right)! Our server was so impressed he insisted on taking a picture!
All-in-all, I really enjoyed our first Royal Caribbean cruise and I think our friends enjoyed their first-ever cruise! We have another one coming up soon and I did consider changing to a set dining time, but then I heard that they are back to sitting you with strangers. I think I would rather wait in line to eat than sit with strangers, but you can make that decision for yourself.
Thanks for stopping by! To read more about this trip check out my Island a Day Trip Report. To read about some of our previous trips, visit my Trips Page. If you like my photos be sure to “like” my Facebook Page and follow me on Instagram! You can purchase prints on Fine Art America. To see inside my camera bag, check out my updated Gear Page.