EXPLORER OF THE SEAS
Maiden Voyage in the Eastern Caribbean
Oct. 28 to Nov. 4, 2000
Mary & Vincent Finelli
was our 12th cruise in the past four years, including five cruises on Royal
Caribbean ships: Grandeur
of the Seas, Voyager of the Seas, Majesty of the Seas, Sovereign of the Seas and
now Explorer of the Seas.
It is evident that we keep coming back to Royal Caribbean.
We have also sailed on the Grand
Princess, Norwegian Wind, Celebrity Century, Costa Victoria and three times
on our favorite ship the Costa Romantica. As we write, we have booked passage on the new ships the Costa
Atlantica in December and on the Celebrity
Millennium in January 2001.
sailed on the Voyager of the Seas, which
is the Explorer's sister ship, we
were aware of what to expect on this cruise--Deja' Vu, but it turned out to be
even better! The Explorer met our expectations and raised the bar for all of our
Explorer's inaugural voyage was even
more interesting than our cruise on the Voyager.
Since there is no difference in the floor plan of the two ships, we
now knew our way around this gigaship and we have some comparisons to make with
her sister ship. The Explorer,
because of her size, takes up two piers in the Port of Miami (Piers #4 & 5)
and it dwarfed other ships in this and every other port. From the upper decks we looked down on the Ryndam, the Norway, Carnival's
Fantasy and the Disney Magic-- a very interesting aerial view.
The Explorer was true to the
elegance which we had seen on other Royal Caribbean ships: a combination of
beauty and utility makes sailing on her a pleasure.
Once again there were Studio B (the ice skating rink), a wall for
climbing, a full basketball court, the Dunes (a nine hole mini-golf course and
putting green), and an in-line track, etc., which are features not found on
other cruising ships, except on the Voyager. But it is the
concept of the Royal Promenade which sets an ambiance different from all ships
but the Voyager.
It gives cruisers an opportunity for Euro-style walking and browsing
in shops (the perfumes are the best buys) and enjoying a coffee or ice cream
while sitting in front of a cafe' and meeting up with new acquaintances or just
people watching. The centerpiece of the promenade is an old black Harley
Davidson motorcycle with side car that presents a backdrop for many pictures and
the sound effects that go along with it are great.
In contrast, the centerpiece of the Voyager's
Royal Promenade was a beautiful red Morgan spider. We were favorably impressed by the attention to detail and
the gracious service which we found unparalleled.
we are Crown and Anchor members (repeat cruisers on Royal Caribbean Lines)
boarding was quick and easy. We had
booked only two weeks before sailing, so we picked up our tickets at the pier,
but once we filled out two cards, we were escorted to a private room with
comfortable chairs, where we were processed in about twenty minutes and received
our boarding cards (which also serve as on board charge cards and cabin keys).
So, in less than thirty minutes, we were on board having had our photo
taken and heading toward our cabin; however, there was no escort in uniform
taking our carry-on luggage and leading the way, as there was on the Costa
cabin #9288 was a Category D9, Superior Ocean View, with a balcony which held
two chairs and a small table to which our steward, Othniel, added a lounge chair
for my wife who usually needs wheel chair assistance; however, this cruise she
was doing well and I needed physical therapy and used the lounge chair much more
than she did. It was a Godsend for
me. Entering the cabin, on the left
was the bathroom with a triple mirror and medicine cabinet, a circular shower
stall with curved sliding doors, large enough to be comfortable, without the
feeling of claustrophobia. The tile with crocus bud motif of blue, aqua, green
and coral was a nice designer's touch. On
the right, there was the large closet with removable hangers, shelves and roomy
enough for the empty luggage (until we bought out Labadee).
However, luggage can also be stored under the bed.
Beyond the closet was the large mirrored vanity with more drawers for
storage and a hair dryer. Then
there was the minibar/refrigerator, interactive TV
and wall safe all in a wall unit with additional shelves. Across from
this was a coffee table and the convertible sofa, which could have slept two
more, but there were just the two of us. The
bed was listed in the brochure as queen size, but it was actually more like a
king size with a head board of aqua suede (just like the one on the Voyager). The cabin
color scheme was a restful medley of blue, aqua, coral and beige.
The bed cover was a woven patch work of the same colors and the woven
woolen blanket was hand-finished with an old fashion blanket stitch.
There were dotted Swiss sheers and heavy drapes to close out unwanted
light. The placement of the bed allowed us to see the stars at
night. Needless-to-say, we felt
right at home. From our balcony we
saw other ships cruising in the area, lovely spectacular sunrises, stars, and an
isolated raging storm with lightning fireworks, which fortunately, according to
the Captain, only lasted seven minutes. All
of these experiences made our cruise exciting.
beauty of taking an inaugural cruise is that the freshness of a new vessel is
apparent, everything is in "shipshape" condition: carpeting,
upholstered chairs, walls and cabins are sparkling and so it was with the Explorer.
However, some of the crew and systems are also new and untested.
Happily, we only experienced two
glitches and they were quickly remedied. First,
Room Service had not yet tried their interactive TV program for orders and we
noted when ordering breakfast that there was no way to specify a delivery time.
After the first attempts, both using interactive TV and calling Room
Service by phone to reorder, the order still did not arrive.
We had appointments at the Spa, so when we were told we could reorder
with a delay of 30 to 45 minutes, we cancelled the order instead.
The cancelled breakfast arrived anyway, two hours late.
After that Jose' Carrasco, Room Service Manager, corrected the problem
and all subsequent orders were prompt and delicious.
He also knows how to apologize--the chocolate dipped strawberries were
appreciated. The second problem was
that our vacuum toilet would not flush, but a note to Chief Purser, Gary Davies,
brought swift action and a plumber who told us the system was so new that it
only needed a minor adjustment and from then on it worked perfectly.
Mr. Davies also knows how to apologize: a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon
was sent to our table at dinner that evening--excellent choice!
And many thanks to him for this courteous attention.
These people showed their desire to do whatever it takes to please the
scent of newness is a wonderful thing, but, after only a few days the odor of
smoking could be detected in the corridors leading to the cabins and on our
balcony. The next door cabin toward
the front of the ship was inhabited by two chain smokers, and since we were down
wind, we had to leave the balcony several times due to unwanted smoke and at
times keep our sliding balcony door shut so that our cabin would not fill with
smoke. Our suggestion to avoid this
condition would be to create non-smoking areas, as the Norwegian Cruise lines
has, whereby the smokers are placed on one side of the ship, e.g. portside, thus
non-smokers would not be subjected to second-hand smoke.
All things considered this ship is the largest cruise ship ever built and
no expense has been spared to make it beautiful and comfortable.
Although most passengers we encountered felt as we did that the two
"Tinfoil" sculptures hanging from the ceilings of the two Centrums, at
the ends of the Royal Promenade, could have been done without.
The many replicas of ships, pictures and art works added to enjoyable
strolls around the ship. The
concerns we mention are minor considering the enormity of the ship and its
complexities. The most unique item on the
Explorer is the Atmospheric and Oceanographic Laboratory on board which is a
joint effort with the University of Miami: studying ocean currents, atmospheric
conditions and collecting valuable
data of wind and water parameters which will be useful to scientists in
weather/hurricane forecasting, and will give a better understanding of global
warming and other environmental problems. Ship
tours of these facilities really impressed me as a retired Professor of
are three separate dining rooms on three levels sharing a "sweeping
staircase" and a chandelier-less (contrary to the brochure) centrum--Deck 5
is named the Columbus, Deck 4 is called the Vasco da Gama and Deck 3 is the
Magellan, where we dined. The
carpeting and the cobalt blue rimmed china presented a sumptuous background to
the excellent food. The Executive
Chef, Edward Rachny, has truly elevated dining to a higher level.
With the exception of the Costa
Romantica the Grand Princess, we
have not dined as well on any other ship. The
meat entrees were superb: Prime Rib, Filet mignon, Peking Duck, Veal Osso Bucco
and Veal Cordon Bleu were all excellent. The
salads and the desserts were deliciously fresh (A++ for the Swan Chantilly,
Chocolate Soufflé, Chocolate Velvet Cake and the various fruit tarts which
were mouthwatering). However, the
pasta dishes and some other Italian entrees did not meet our expectation. Of
course, the wait staff can also affect one's dining pleasure and we had both
efficient and personable service in our waitress Szilvia Rostas from Hungary,
Asst. Waiter Biler Muftuoglu from Turkey, Sommelier Ariel Callants from the
Philippines, and Mr. Bryce Clarke our Head Waiter from Australia who kept a
watchful eye on all. The dining room service, food and ambiance were all top
The alternative dining in the Windjammer buffet is much improved over
that of the Voyager.
The lines were short except for those waiting for breakfast omelets.
Here we would rate the buffet good to excellent.
We also tried Johnny Rockets, which was fun with its chrome/red naugahyde
booths and jukeboxes (what a trip down memory lane): try the chili, onion rings,
double hamburger and American apple pie.
also dined at the "upscale Euro-Italian" Portofino Restaurant where reservations and a $20 cover
charge per person are required. The
table by the window overlooking the sea was lovely and the Maitre D' was most
cordial--but I have been exposed to the best of both Italian home cooking and the finest Italian restaurant
dining and I feel Portofino needs either a native Italian Chef or a name and
menu change. Of course our best
meal aboard was at the Captain's table; we were pleasantly surprised when we
received our gold lettered invitation. Captain
Olav Gunnar Nyseter and his gracious wife Barbara were wonderful hosts; his
pride in the Explorer and his concern
for passengers were very much evident. Our choices from the menu were Escargot,
Caesar Salad, French onion soup, Filet Mignon/Veal Cordon Blue and chocolate
velvet cake. All accompanied
by exquisite white and red wines. DELECTABLE!
of the entertainment on this cruise was well-performed and enjoyable, but of the
usual fare. The jewel in the
Explorer's crown though is STUDIO B's Planet Ice Show "Explore a New
World." The skating was first rate as were the sound and
lighting effects. Robert Stempfl's
acrobatic performance with a huge metal wheel was thrilling and he and the
entire cast drew a long standing ovation. Whatever you do, do not miss this
show! The piano music in the Dizzy
Gillespie lounge was excellent, the Aquarium Bar is stunning and so is the
Chamber, decorated with the suits of armor, torches, etc. The Casino was nice and we left a bit of our money there;
However, as usual the slots were tight or maybe we were just unlucky.
this cruise there are four ports of call and two days at sea (as compared to
three ports of call and three days at sea for the Voyager):
Labadee, Haiti, has nice beaches and great buys especially in hand carved wooden
San Juan, Puerto Rico, is a great port set between two old forts and of course
the Bacardi Rum Distillery. We usually don't buy liquor on our cruises since
bottles are too heavy and fragile to carry, and most items are available at home
for not much more money.
St. Thomas,V.I., has nice land/sea tours and excursions to St. John, and good
shopping, don't miss Mr. Tablecloth.
Nassau, Bahamas has nice beaches, etc. etc....
have been to the Caribbean many times and we actually cruise for the shipboard
life and not for the ports of call; therefore, we normally stay on board because
on port days we can enjoy the ship without crowds.
night before debarkation we received our yellow tags for our luggage and a
surprise of two inaugural commemorative spyglasses in small wooden boxes.
What a souvenir, we will not forget this cruise!
This was the simplest and quickest debarkation ever.
No complaints, everything was planned and executed neatly.
courtesy of Kvaerner
to Royal Caribbean Reviews