All inclusive cruising really can be all inclusive on Royal Caribbean’s Explorer of the Seas. With a diverse range of dining and snacking options included in your cruise fare you will be spoiled for choice (and possibly 5kg heavier by the time you arrive home. Yeah, that happened on my first cruise.)
The Sapphire Dining room is the ‘formal’ dining room on the Explorer of the Seas. I say ‘formal’ in inverted commas as although it is the formal option, you don’t need to be put off by the thought you need to dress in formal attire every night (I’m looking at you, Husband). Smart casual is acceptable. Anything from jeans and a nice shirt to black pants and tie won’t raise any eyebrows. Depending on the length of your cruise you will have several formal nights and as long as you make an effort you won’t be turned away.
The Sapphire is a three-level restaurant and is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner on sea days. Meals here are included in your fare. You may find one item that comes at an extra cost on the menu each night but you can eat fantastic meals here every day without putting your hand in your pocket at all. Iced water will flow freely but if you want anything else to drink with dinner you will need to pay.
The menu is wonderfully varied and you will find something for everybody in your party. Half of the menu is available for your entire cruise and the other half changes each night; you will never get bored with what is on offer here. Steak, lobster, prawn, salmon, soup and pasta dishes are paraded in front of you every night with equally appetising desserts to tempt you.
It is a wonderful opportunity to try something new without worrying you have wasted your money ordering something you won’t eat. I would never have ordered escargot in a restaurant otherwise. Don’t forget that you are not limited to one of everything and you can mix it up by having two starters for mains or dessert for every course. A children’s menu is available and fussy 15 year olds are welcome to order off of this too (I speak from experience).
I recommend heading to deck five shortly after you board to secure a regular table. The first night on board can be a veritable cattle crush in the buffet style dining room. Plan your first night of dining around your sail out time, because you don’t want to miss standing out on deck as you pull away from the harbour. After that, if you are the type of person who wants to go to the shows early, the grandma-esque early dining time of 6 pm might be a good one for you (I know we usually eat around 8 pm at home, but cruising we eat much earlier).
To eat at the Sapphire for breakfast or lunch you don’t need a booking. You will dine on deck 3 for these meals and, as far as I am concerned, lunch at the Sapphire is one of the ships hidden delights. Salads made fresh in front of you from your chosen ingredients, tender roasts, a relaxed table service menu which is every bit as good as the evening menu and the cheese. Oh the cheese. Really proper, honest to goodness, delicious cheese. As an Australian eating the cheese in the Windjammer, I was turned off by the bland, waxy cheeses that all tasted the same. But the Sapphire’s cheese buffet is worth eating in the restaurant for on its own.
The chocolate themed breakfast was a highlight for our 15 year old. Chocolate pancakes with chocolate waffles (she couldn’t decided between them so staff made her a mixed plate) with chocolate sauce and a hot chocolate to wash it down with.
The Windjammer is the all you can eat style buffet aboard the Explorer of the Seas. (If truth be told, all the inclusive restaurants are all you can eat if you just ask for it.) My personal opinion is that the food at The Windjammer is mediocre, however it is my preferred option for breakfast. I actually can’t imagine eating there every night for a fortnight, but we often eat there for lunch as well as breakfast.
The stand out breakfast option in the Windjammer is the egg station where you can get fresh, made to order omelettes and poached eggs. Breakfast buffets are laden with pastries, fresh and tinned fruits, eggs, sausages, pancakes, waffles, hash browns (that look suspiciously like potato gems), yoghurt, cereals and beans to name a small portion of the cornucopia of food. Lunch offers a wide variety from a sandwich bar to noodles, pizza and hotdogs. The thing I love the most about the Windjammer Cafe is that you are able to take your food out on deck and eat in the sunshine away from the noise and crowds.
Ask my husband about the Windjammer and you will be treated to a passionate discussion about how inconvenient it is not to group like foods together. Getting a roast meal necessitates going to 3 different places in the hall and half your food is cold before you sit down. The signs that hang from the ceiling declaring the noodles are over here and the carvery is over there are more like guidelines than rules.
Tip for beginners: Take a walk around the dining hall to look at everything on offer before joining the queues.
The Promenade cafe is open 24 hours a day and the majority of what it offers is included in your fare. Move past the Starbucks and Ben and Jerry’s that you need to pay for at the front of this sidewalk cafe to find the food you can graze on to your heart’s (and stomach’s) delight. Pastries, wraps, sandwiches, pizza, cookies, slices, and jelly are on offer here. The perfect place to meet up and play a game of cards or discuss the events of the day over a coffee, in quieter moments staff will come to your table to tempt you with delicious biscuits.
Our teens often wandered down at midnight to grab a midnight pizza and doughnut snack to take back up to their rooms and continue chattering away into the early hours.
Between 5am and midnight the room service menu is fair game. (Fair game, fare game. It is included in your fare. You see what I did there?… No, not okay? Sorry.) We weren’t overly impressed with the food on offer, it couldn’t hold a candle to P&O’s room service, however it can be a good idea to order room service on shore days if you don’t want to fight the throngs of people trying to get fed early in the Windjammer.
Soft serve ice cream from the Arctic Zone booth is also included in your fare. Arctic Zone isn’t open all the time, but on warm days it is often open in the afternoons and is located on the pool deck.
Stations to make your own tea, hot chocolate and coffee are available in the Promenade and Windjammer Cafes. You will also find icy dispensers full of American style lemonade (completely refreshing and I wish we had this as a thing in Australia), fruit punch (nothing like Australian fruit punch and tastes like chemicals and sugar. Or nasty cough syrup. Or nasty cough syrup laced with chemicals and sugar. You may like it, we certainly didn’t.) and water.
In the morning you will find apple and orange juice in the Windjammer for breakfast also. Handy hint for beginners from my children – get there early to avoid having watered down juice.