Dining on Seven Seas Explorer is simply excellent. Variety, quality and service are outstanding no matter the venue. The ship has two main restaurants, Compass Rose and La Veranda/Sette Mari, which are open to passengers for as many dinners as they wish, as well as three included specialty restaurants, where passengers can dine at least once per venue.
The restaurants are stunning, and each has its own feel and design inspiration. They all feature high-end crystal, silverware and china, from makers like Bernardaud and Versace.
Waiters, waitresses and sommeliers know the menu well and make knowledgeable recommendations based on your tastes. We love the little touches, like a wooden box filled with chic reading glasses (in case you forgot yours) to help you with the menu.
Reservations are required for the specialty restaurants (and you can book them ahead of your cruise or once onboard), though walkups can occasionally be accommodated.
Compass Rose (Deck 4): The ship's main dining room, Compass Rose is a large space just off the ship's atrium. It's decorated with an ocean theme -- that is, it features a color palette heavy on sea blues, white and light grays. The columns are adorned in mother of pearl. But the nod for the most impressive feature here has to go to the main blue crystal-and-glass chandelier, which is massive and features hundreds of blue crystal droplets. It's so splendid, you might overlook the brilliant -- though smaller -- amber chandeliers scattered throughout the dining room. Most of the tables here seat two or four, though several can accommodate larger parties. Dining here is open, meaning there are no set seats or dining times; just show up and eat any time the restaurant is open.
Breakfast is served here most days and features items such as eggs cooked to your preference, pancakes, waffles, yogurt, fresh fruit, bacon and sausage. Fresh juices are offered, as is coffee and tea. Compass Rose generally isn't open for lunch. (Instead, visit either Chartreuse or Prime 7 for a sit-down afternoon meal.) The same menu is offered every day for breakfast; every Sunday is a Champagne and caviar breakfast. (If you don't see an item you want, such as eggs Benedict, on the menu, just ask your waiter; chances are you can get it.)
At night, Compass Rose serves a multicourse dinner, with expansive and customizable menus (re-developed in late 2016 for the entire fleet). The left side of the menu features always-available appetizers, categorized by fish and seafood (Alaskan crab salad, lobster bisque), meat (egg and truffle, pan-seared foie gras) and soup and salad (classic Caesar, tomato soup). They're followed by a list of 13 meats and seafood (Maine lobster tail, Black Angus filet mignon, New Zealand lamb chops and veal medallions, among others) that diners can mix and match with a list of sauces, sides and pasta. The combinations on this half of the menu alone could get you through a lengthy cruise.
On the right side of the menu are the specials, which change daily. Appetizers could be caviar profiteroles or a goat cheese tart, pasta might be pasta diavola with lobster and entrees range from butternut agnolotti to roasted duck Beijing style and Maine lobster. Menus identify lacto-ovo vegetarian options and include a tasty vegetarian bean chili or a Mediterranean squash and zucchini quinoa salad.
Menus identify a "balanced selection" option: a three-course meal that is lower in calories and fat. Calories, fat and fiber content for those dishes are written on the menu, so you won't be guessing. Passengers also can request any dish be prepared plainly or with less fat or sodium. Additionally, proteins can be prepared grilled or poached, and passengers can get virtually any item without sauce.
A tasting menu, called the Executive Chef's Menu Degustation, is available each night as well and includes a perfectly portioned six-course menu.
Dessert might be cheesecake or a tart, for example, while options such as ice cream, sorbet and a cheese plate are always available.
Vegan, strict vegetarian and gluten-free diets can be accommodated; passengers who have dietary restrictions should notify the cruise line when making reservations and confirm with the maitre d' once onboard. The ship carries some kosher meat onboard and has a separate preparation area; those who are very strict will want to speak to the line in advance and pre-order meals. We were impressed with the way the Explorer crew handled passengers with allergies; the staff leaves the next day's menu in the cabin, and the passenger can select the items he or she wishes to eat. They'll be prepared apart from everyone else's, ensuring no allergens cross-contaminate the meal. Wait staff also know which passengers have which allergies, and if a passenger accidentally orders something with that allergen in it, the waiter or waitress will advise.
The Cafe (Deck 5): The Cafe is a small, casual venue, with a bar that serves a variety of teas and coffees, cappuccinos, lattes and espressos. There's also a self-serve coffee machine. The cafe serves continental breakfast and snacks buffet-style throughout the day. Passengers dine and linger in the adjacent seating area with comfy cafe seating. It's a busy spot, especially midmorning and on sea days.
Pacific Rim (Deck 5): Pacific Rim, Explorer's Pan-Asian restaurant, is tough to miss in part because of its nearly 6,000-pound, bronze-cast prayer wheel, a floor-to-ceiling art piece inspired by traditional Tibetan Buddhist prayer wheels. (The wheel features sayings of wisdom rather than prayers, though.) Passengers walk past it to gain entry into the restaurant, which is decorated in olive green and gray, with dark wood and touches of brass throughout. Seating is available in tables of two and four, as well as a couple of larger tables.
The restaurant is only open for dinner, and it serves Asian food from across the continent, so items include Japanese, Chinese, Thai, Korean and Vietnamese selections. This was one of our favorite restaurants, in part because of the variety and portion sizes that allow you to sample a lot without feeling guilty. Appetizer options include an assorted sushi platter, hamachi sashimi, duck spring rolls and beef tataki -- a favorite at our table. Dim sum is offered, with popular items like a delicious open-top pork and shrimp shui mai, chicken and foie gras gyoza and eggplant and mushroom potstickers. Soups and salads are available as well. Skip the seaweed wakame salad and opt for the tom kha gai or pho sai gon. The restaurant has an excellent selection of entrees -- try the miso black cod, served wrapped in a hoba leaf, or the Black Angus beef bulgogi. If you're looking for something a little spicier, try the vegetarian or seafood curry. Our only real quibble from our meal here is we asked for a higher level of spice, and it was served mild -- at best. Vegetarian dishes are labeled as such. For dessert, save room for the green tea panna cotta and chili chocolate mousse.
Chartreuse (Deck 10): Designed to remind diners of a Parisian cafe, Chartreuse serves modern French food in a restaurant that is femininely (but not fussily) decorated, with marble tiles designed to look like a wet, cobblestone street and gold filigree screens and metal accents that replicate the ironwork of the Eiffel Tower. The back of the restaurant, which has an incredible inlaid marble floor, has bigger tables that can accommodate as many as eight people, but most tables seat two to four, and many tables have banquette seating. The front of the restaurant has an intimate bar area that really is too small for lingering but perfect for grabbing a drink while waiting for your table.
Chartreuse is open for lunch every sea day and every other port day (it alternates with Prime 7, located next door). The basic lunch menu is the same each day, with the addition of several daily specials. Daily lunch appetizers include an assortment of charcuterie items, such as duck terrine, Bayonne ham and saucisson, a nicoise salad or leek and cheese quiche. Mains include grilled octopus, grilled salmon or roast chicken. Dessert options also change daily and might include chocolate banana verrine or rhubarb and almond tart.
At dinner, the menu is the same each night. Our favorite was the appetizer course: Everyone thought their selection was the best, and lots of sharing led us to believe they all were excellent. For your first course, choose from items like steak tartare with caviar, terrine of foie gras or escargot in a rich Burgundy sauce. Order a few appetizers and skip the soup course, which we found bland. Soup options include a fish stew, a consomme or a creamy artichoke. Entrees include French standards, such as Coquille Saint Jacques sea scallops and beef ribs with seared foie gras. Vegetarian options are available, but be prepared for rich, cheesy dishes.
For dessert, we loved the excellent cheese selection, which is cut tableside. If you have a sweet tooth, try the creme brulee or chocolate Napoleon. You'll also get a takeaway box of macarons.
Prime 7 (Deck 10): If Chartreuse is feminine, Prime 7, the line's signature steakhouse, feels masculine -- in fact, it was inspired by traditional gentlemen's clubs, and as such, features lots of dark leather, stark black and white marble, and walls covered in navy blue ultrasuede. A small bar is located at the front of the restaurant for passengers wanting to imbibe while they wait for tables. Seating in the restaurant is mostly tables for two or four; only a couple of tables are available for larger parties. The restaurant also features banquette seating -- even for parties of two. While we love the intimacy of the banquettes, they are slightly too low for the tables, and you'll find yourself reaching in an odd way to cut your food. We felt like we needed a booster seat.
Prime 7 is open every sea day for lunch, and every other port day (it alternates with Chartreuse). The lunch menu is the same each day, though daily specials are offered. The menu includes appetizers like chicken quesadillas (so big, it could be an entree) and an excellent pickled beet salad with velvety goat cheese panna cotta. Main courses include a Caesar salad, burger, grilled sirloin and baby back ribs. Desserts include a peanut caramel brownie and a butter pecan sandwich.
Dinner at Prime 7 is a real treat; it's truly one of the best chop houses at sea, as steaks are perfectly prepared and meat quality is high. In general, beef is the star, but seafood is also excellent, as is the lamb and pork. Appetizer options include a decadent foie gras slider, a light but delicious ahi tuna and avocado tower and a classic steak tartare. Soup and salad courses include clam chowder, an iceberg wedge and Caesar salad. Just beware: Entree courses are large, so you might want to skip (or split) appetizers, soups and salads. The most popular item on the menu might be the prime rib, but we love the lean-yet-buttery-soft filet mignon. The surf and turf includes a filet as well as either a lobster tail or king crab legs. A variety of sauces are available, including chimichurri, bearnaise and cranberry port wine. Sides are served family style and include twice-baked potatoes, sauteed mushrooms and asparagus. Desserts include a classic Chicago-style cheesecake, or our favorite, a caramel popcorn sundae.
Tucked away behind Prime 7 is a private dining area, available for dinner by reservation to those in the top suites onboard. Passengers dining here can choose from either the Prime 7 or Chartreuse menu.
La Veranda/Sette Mari (Deck 11): La Veranda is the ship's buffet, serving breakfast and lunch each day. At night, it transforms into Sette Mari, a combination buffet and order-from-the-menu restaurant. Located at the very back of the ship, La Veranda is filled with bright natural lighting. It also offers alfresco dining, with a beautiful and large seating space behind the service area. Most of the tables indoors and out seat two or four. Tables for larger parties are mostly located outside. While most of the food is self-serve, waiters and waitresses are attentive and provide prompt drink service.
Breakfast includes hot items like eggs, sausage, bacon, beans, oatmeal and grilled tomatoes, as well as cold items such as yogurt, fresh fruit, muesli, cereal and cold cuts and fish. The buffet has an egg station, where you can order eggs any style, delivered to your table (just provide the chef your table number and skip the wait). Every Sunday, a Champagne and caviar breakfast is served, with salmon roe and Osetra options. You'll love the setup, complete with blinis and crostini, eggs and cream. Waiters serve Champagne tableside. (The Caviar breakfast is also offered on the same day in Compass Rose.)
Lunch includes a small salad bar, sandwiches and a carving station, where meats such as pork loin or brisket are served. A number of hot options also are offered, with selections rotating daily. Items might include salmon fillets or chicken satay, for example. A chef mans a pasta station, making filling custom orders.
For dinner, passengers can dine at Sette Mari, an Italian restaurant that pairs antipasti buffet selections with menu options like gnocchi in pesto, lasagna, veal scaloppini or cioppino. Desserts include tiramisu or panna cotta. Menu options vary each night, though some items will repeat. The restaurant has the feel of a sit-down venue, and you'll have a waiter who will take your order for pasta and "second plate" courses. Desserts are served buffet style.
Pool Grill (Deck 11): The Pool Grill serves breakfast and lunch each day, and much of the food served here replicates what is served inside at La Veranda. At lunch, though, passengers are treated to regional specialties. So, if Explorer is sailing in France, lunch might include nicoise salad, baguettes and salmon mousseline. In Greece, you might be treated to dolmades, taramasalata, olives, and hummus and pita bread.
The Pool Grill also features a set menu for lunch, which is the same every day. It includes burgers (traditional, vegetarian or tuna, for example), pizza, an amazing Cuban sandwich and chicken wings. Most selections come with fries (get the sweet potato variety).
The Pool Grill also includes a small ice cream station (dubbed "The Creamery") for sorbet and ice cream, floats, sundaes and shakes. Snacks, mostly cookies and muffins, are available from morning until around 6 p.m.
Observation Lounge Afternoon Tea (Deck 11): White-gloved afternoon tea service is offered every day at 4 p.m. in the Observation Lounge. A small variety of Twinings tea is offered along with finger sandwiches, pastries and scones with clotted cream and jam. On sea days, a themed dessert if offered, such as cupcakes, cheesecake or crepes.
Pool Deck Party Barbecue (Deck 11): Once a cruise, a nighttime pool deck barbecue takes place. It's not your garden-variety wieners and burgers event. It's a full-blown seafood and meat extravaganza. Jumbo shrimp, mussels, king crab legs and lobster are served, and passengers pile up their plates with shellfish, along with big beef ribs, salads and fresh-carved turkey. The dessert bar includes fruit tarts, cakes and beautiful pastries. Entertainers perform live music, and waiters and waitresses bring around signature drinks, Champagne and whatever else your heart might desire.
Room Service: One of the best perks of sailing on Seven Seas Explorer is its awesome room service menu. You can order from a set menu 24 hours a day. Items include things like bacon cheeseburgers, pasta Bolognese or seared scallops. Breakfast also is available and includes eggs, toast, waffles, pancakes, yogurt and fruit.
While the room service menu selection is excellent, make sure to spoil yourself by ordering a multicourse room service dinner from Compass Rose. You pick the items from that night's menu, and a waiter will serve you in your cabin, one course at a time, either on your balcony or inside table.
Room service for all meals is served on a white tablecloth, and your waiter will setup the plates and silverware for you, and then remove your tray and dishes when you're done.