In this third and final post of my Explorer of the Seas dining series, I will give you the scoop on the main dining room (MDR) and Windjammer. With the exception of alcohol, soda, speciality coffees and food upgrades ( like fancier cuts of steak and lobster), dining in both the Windjammer and MDR are included in your cruise fare.
Our experience in the MDR was a bit of a mess.
Initially, we were given an upper level table for eight, although we never had another family seated with us. Before I get to my complaints, I must emphasize that the dining staff was working very hard. There was nowhere else on the ship that the lack of staff made a bigger impact than in dining. It was clear, that there was nowhere near enough staff to handle the volume of passengers. Service suffered.
To make matters worse, the Explorer of the Seas came out of dry dock just prior to our cruise and they added over eighty rooms. I'm sure Royal Caribbean is happy with the profits, but we felt like sardines.
Dinner was an ordeal. Service was slow, our courses came out at weird times, bar service was nonexistent, orders were wrong...but the kicker was when my vegetarian mother-in-law was mistakenly served meat. Twice. Twice, after she was very clear that she is a vegetarian. This was the deal-breaker. We thought that a change in tables might fix the situation.
Here is where we went wrong. Instead of asking the restaurant manager for a switch, we decided to use our suite concierge, Denzil. Denzil was very helpful and had us switched to a table on the bottom level, however, it was clear that this arrangement created a kerfuffle. We were now on a "dissatisfied customer" list and it haunted us for the remainder of our trip.
The new seating arrangement was marginally better. The servers were far more on-top of things, however, they also had a much busier section. Dining on the lower level was loud and frenetic. Here are a couple of panoramas Dan took of our table.
All around, the food in the main dining room was average to disappointing. Although the menu did change nightly, you could always find beef, chicken, fish and a curry. There were also many British favorites, I'm guessing as a nod to the majority of the guests on the cruise. All of my meals were either bland or overly salty with mushy veggies. Edible, but not very good.
I really didn't like the MDR manager on the lower level. He kept checking up on us, but he would talk without looking us in the eye. His staff seemed extra tense, like he is probably a jerk to them when they go behind the scenes. The worst was the poor guy in charge of taking drink orders. He was older and had trembling hands when he poured. He just couldn't keep up with the volume of drinks that he was expected to serve. Royal Caribbean really missed the mark here. If they hired a few extra people, they would have sold a ton more drinks and had much happier customers. I bet the food would have tasted better too.
I guess we drank too much champagne, because on the last few nights of the cruise, they completely ran out of what we had been drinking. It wasn't just the champagne, I couldn't get several cocktails at the bars, because they had run out of various ingredients. Running out of alcohol on a ship full of Brits = disaster! Cranky cruisers.
This said, we skipped the MDR in favor of specialty dining and casual meals at the Windjammer. When we skipped the MDR, someone from the MDR ( the manager, our server) would track us down to make sure that we were happy and to question why we were not dining in the MDR. Our concierge called our suite to make sure that everything was okay. We weren't pushy or angry when we complained, yet it seemed like the MDR staff was walking on egg shells around us for the rest of the cruise. I guess we made waves.
Windjammer is the casual option for meals. It's a buffet and other than no swim attire, you do not have to dress up for dinner. Here is the thing about Windjammer, during lunch it is a madhouse. It's so busy, you will likely have to make rounds to secure a table. They make announcements over a PA to urge guests to leave as soon as they have finished eating.
So, there is one way around this; become a suite guest. Yes, it's pricy, but if you can afford it, being a suite guest will make your cruise infinitely more enjoyable, especially during breakfast and lunch. During those meals, you are allowed to grab your meal from the buffet and bring it into Chops Grille, where servers will get your drinks. Chops is quiet and relaxing, while Windjammer is the polar opposite.
In the mornings, Chops sets up a private buffet for suite guests and you can order off of a menu, so you don't even have to walk into Windjammer, unless you want to.
If you dine in the evenings, the seating in Windjammer is bearable, especially if you arrive early or late. Many people bring their children into Windjammer for an early dinner, before the kid's club opens. We did this a few times. It's convenient.
Admittedly, on my previous Royal Caribbean cruise on the Mariner of the Seas in 2008, I didn't think much of the food at Windjammer. I'm pleased to report that on this cruise, I actually looked forward to the offerings at Windjammer.
Windjammer offers a decent variety of food with daily specials. They always have a curry and an asian noodle section. There are burgers, hot dogs and a make-your-own pizza station. The meats and vegetables are substantially better than what is served in the MDR. The fruit was perfect. The best cantaloupe that I've ever eaten. The dessert stations are massive and they always have ice cream. Honestly, it's tasty food. The only minor issue, is it grows a bit "Same-y" after two weeks on the ship.
Here we are for dinner in Windjammer.
Dinners in Windjammer were an easier experience than the MDR. Everyone got the food that they wanted without waiting and it was easy to grab a staff member for bar orders. It may not have been as "fancy", but it was usually a more pleasant experience.
Windjammer has ocean views like this...
I'll end with a funny story.
Our cruise coincided with the 4th of July. As the only American in our group, I was singled out by the staff to be invited to celebrate the 4th. Americans reading this, take a moment to think of the foods that you associate with the 4th of July.
I'm thinking a BBQ...hot dogs, hamburgers, baked beans, potato salad and some apple pie to finish. Got that image?
The very kind and very international staff was excited to present me with the menu for their special ( $20.00 surcharge) 4th of July dining event, featuring a full turkey meal.
They were crestfallen, when I had to tell them that it was the wrong American holiday.
They promoted the event for several days, including sending multiple invitations to our suite, but I don't think that they had many takers, because on the 4th, the event was switched to a special curry dinner.
We did celebrate the 4th of July in Windjammer with an special cake.