EXPLORER OF THE SEAS
January 20 – 27, 2001
Miami to Eastern Caribbean
By Anne Goyer
We had a group of 23 people sail on
the Explorer of the Seas leaving Miami on January 20 and visiting Labadee,
San Juan, St. Thomas (St. John) and Nassau. Our group was comprised of
people from 14 to 78 years old. Business associates, family and friends
comprised the group.
All of us flew to Miami the day before
scheduled sailing. We always travel to the departure city a day early since
we nearly missed a ship for flight delays several years ago. Most of us
spent the night at a new LaQuinta Inn and Suites at the airport. This
limited service hotel was great. It had a pool and a hot tub and provided a
complimentary continental breakfast. Others in our group stayed in South
Beach and at the Hyatt Regency Miami. We made arrangements for shuttle
service from the hotel to the pier. Travel time was approximately 20 minutes
from the airport hotel.
We arrived at the ship about 11:20 AM.
Passengers were being boarded when we arrived. Most of our group got in line
to check-in. My parents were with us and my dad required a wheel chair to
get from the dock to their room. The distance was a bit too far for him to
walk. When we requested a wheel chair, a Royal Caribbean (RCI) attendant
took us to a separate waiting area. He took my parents cruise tickets and
birth certificates and returned within five minutes with their cruise cards
(room keys). In the meantime, we went to the suite check-in line (this is a
separate line from the main check-in and not easy to see with the number of
people in the terminal). If you are booked in a suite (CAT C or higher) be
sure to ask an RCI employee where the suite check in line is. Our check-in
was complete in about five minutes. Our entire group was checked in within
20–25 minutes. Overall, RCI handled embarkation very well.
The Explorer of the Seas is an
unbelievably beautiful ship. First, you are awed by her sheer size. While
she isn’t really all that much longer than some of the other megaliners,
she is very wide. You notice just how wide when you step onto the pool deck
or look down the Royal Promenade.
The artwork on the ship (if you enjoy
looking at art) is wonderful. There is a good mix of art created out of
different media (paintings, sculptures, fabrics, metal, mosaics, etc.) and
you are always coming across something new. I spent a couple of hours just
walking around the ship and taking photos of "stuff" I liked.
I have to agree with other reviews I
read. The ship never seemed that crowded even though they said the cruise
was sold out. There are a lot of options and places for people to go and
they never seemed to congregate in one place. Even the pool deck was
comfortable and there were always plenty of deck chairs.
REALLY COOL STUFF ON BOARD
- The stage drape in the Palace Theater
(the prettiest I’ve seen on a ship)
- Metal Angel sculpture aft hanging
from deck 12 (I wanted to bring her home but she wouldn’t fit in the
overhead on the plane!)
- Tiered pool deck
- Glass overlook into the bridge (fun
place to watch them "drive the ship")
- Being able to walk to the VERY FRONT
of the ship (probably my favorite thing) the way you could on the Titanic
- Moving golf sculpture in the 19th
hole (very strange but fun)
- Paul McCartney’s guitars (fore
staircase, sorry but can’t remember what deck)
- The ice skating show
- The sound in the main theater
- Glass floor with artwork underneath
at the Casino entrance (careful, it’s pretty but easy to trip over)
- Johnny Rockets
- Plenty of deck chairs
- A promenade deck that you can walk
all the way around
We were in a CAT C cabin at the rear
of the ship. We’ve been in this type of room for the past several cruises
and really like it. One word of warning however for those who have had these
rooms on the Rhapsody or Vision. The balconies on the Explorer are not
nearly as big back here as the Rhapsody or Vision. There is a huge space
from the end of the balcony to the end of the ship so you are not really
over the water like on the other ships. Of course you can see the water, but
the feeling isn’t the same. We’d probably pick a cabin on the side of
the Explorer should we ever cruise her again.
Our cabin (7692) itself was wonderful.
There was more storage space than any other cabin we’ve had in the past.
We had empty drawers and shelves! One great thing about this cabin is that
it is wider than those on the side of the ship or the Rhapsody/Vision. When
the couch was pulled out for our daughter’s bed, there was plenty of room
to walk by her bed to get to the balcony. A very nice improvement. In
additional to the pull out couch there were also two chairs and a coffee
table in this part of the room. It was a great cabin!
Our past several cruises on Royal
Caribbean had mediocre food. I’m happy to report that the food quality and
choices on the Explorer were greatly improved. Every meal in the dining room
was excellent and everyone in our group felt that way about what they
ordered. The choices and the quality in the Windjammer also improved
although you still have to remember that this is a buffet line.
The food at the Promenade Café (open
24 hours a day) was also very good. The pizza, while still not as good as
Princess, was steps ahead of the cardboard pizza served on the Rhapsody and
Vision. The pastries, cookies and sandwiches served here were also very
As I read before cruising, the food in
Johnny Rockets was really good. We had late dinner seating so we went up to
Johnny Rockets each afternoon (OK, not every afternoon) about 4:00 for a
snack. It was never crowded at that time and we never had to wait for a
seat. We also ate lunch here around 2:00 PM the day we were in Nassau and
didn’t have to wait. The only downside was the extremely slow service. For
an area that they serve a lot of people and often have long lines, you would
think they would put quicker servers in this area.
The production shows (done by the
Royal Caribbean Singers and Dancers) in the theaters were terrific and far
better than those offered on previous cruises. The sound is state-of-the-art
and the voices of the four main stars of the show rivaled Broadway singers.
The featured entertainers weren't the best but the talent of the production
shows made up for it. The ice skating show is amazing and shouldn’t be
missed. Tickets were easy to get (and free). An important note, however; the
ice show was only offered on two evenings on this cruise.
Lounge entertainment all over the ship
was good. Nothing spectacular but consistently good.
THE ROYAL PROMENADE
The Royal Promenade area was very
pretty and helped make the ship not seem so big. I always had my parents
walk across the Royal Promenade to get to and from the back of the ship. It
seemed much shorter than walking the long hallways of floors with cabins
only. There was also plenty of space along the Promenade where dad could sit
down and rest for a moment if he tired from walking.
I didn’t think that there was all
that much more "shopping" available on the Royal Promenade. It’s
just in a much bigger space than on other ships. They used this area for
receptions and parades and I often felt it had somewhat of a Las Vegas feel
to it. Do we really need Las Vegas at sea?
For anyone thinking about booking an
inside cabin that overlooks the Royal Promenade, be aware that they do
parades in this area at least four nights and some of them happen as late as
11:00 PM. I’d recommend asking someone who has stayed in one of these
cabins if they are affected by noise.
CREW AND SERVICE
We had two tables for ten in the
dining room that accommodated our group. We had two different waiters
(actually one was a waitress), but shared the same assistant waiter and
assistant Maitre D (formerly called Head Waiters). Both of our wait staff
were good but the server at our table was a bit abrupt and hurried all week
long. Our assistant waiter, Sarkan, was fabulous. One night when someone
said the iced tea didn’t taste the same as the night before and she
thought it was instant tea, he told our assistant Maitre D who went and
brewed fresh tea for her. His comment was that he wanted to make her happy
and if her tea didn’t taste right, he wanted to fix that!
Our assistant Maitre D, Laurent, was
also outstanding. He made our group feel important and nothing was ever too
much trouble. We celebrated two anniversaries and a 50th birthday
during the week and he took care of all the celebrations to make it a lot of
If you want good bar service on a
Royal Caribbean ship, always go to the Champagne bar. You can buy wine and
champagne by the bottle here and they will keep the wine for you if you do
not finish the bottle. The serve hors d’oeuvres and goodies here if you
have a drink and they make a point to get to know your name and what you
like. We’ve had similar service in lounges on smaller ships, but this was
the only place on the Explorer that offered bar service like this.
One of the most astonishing things
I’ve ever seen by a Bar Server occurred in the sports bar one afternoon
when we sat down with a piece of pizza. She was standing at the end of the
bar reading a book from the ship’s library. She looked up at us when we
came in (no one else was in the bar at the time) and looked back down to
continue reading. After about four or five minutes, she walked to the table
next to us to pick up a cup and napkins and walked back to the bar. Then she
finally came to our table to ask if we wanted a drink. I was so shocked I
didn’t know what to say. After she brought drinks, she went right back to
reading her book at the end of the bar. I guess it’s getting difficult to
get staff for cruise ships too!
One other note about the bars and bar
service. An extremely high percentage of the ships crew could be found in
ALL bars throughout the evening, to the point that some bars were filled to
capacity without seats available for passengers. It’s something we
hadn’t seen on any ship prior to this one. All bars, except the Champagne
bar seemed short on servers.
The Cruise Staff is made up of the
Cruise Director and his staff members that plan the social activities on
board. If there was one major down fall on the Explorer it was Cruise Staff.
They were not friendly or outgoing; when they were supposed to be greeting
guests (at the Captain’s Reception for example) they were talking to each
other and ignoring passengers. On 50’s and 60’s evening, two of the
cruise staff were busy fixing their hair in the theatre glass doors instead
of greeting passengers. There was one cruise staff member (Erin) that never
smiled (and I saw her frequently). Perhaps many of these staff members were
on the ship for a while, were nearing the end of their contract and needed a
vacation, but they rank at the bottom of all cruise staffs we’ve seen and
this was my 13th cruise.
Our cabin attendant was terrific!
Friendly, efficient and creative. Exactly what you want from your cabin
attendant. All others on the housekeeping staff were friendly as well. They
always greeted you as you walked down the hall, no matter what floor you
were on. The Cruise staff should take a lesson or two from them.
While the cruise staff was lousy, the
captain was the BEST. He was out and around the ship more than any other
captain we've had, talked to everyone, always joked in his broadcast
messages, even danced in the disco one night!
There were plenty of activities to
keep one busy on the Explorer. You’re probably familiar with most of
them…ice skating, rock climbing, roller blading, putt putt, great hot
tubs, bingo, etc. But one thing that they didn’t have were activities that
got people together to meet others. Things like trivia or name that tune on
previous ships were good activities that allowed you to meet fellow
passengers. You won’t find it on the Explorer. And in the evening, it
seemed like they tried to pack too many things in … you’d get to one
thing and all of a sudden it over and they are herding you to something
PORTS OF CALL/SHORE EXCURSIONS
We didn’t do this cruise for the
ports of call. We really did it for the ship. All the ports of call were
fine although it was cool in Nassau and those who took the snorkeling
excursion here froze in the water. Also, some people in our group did the
Stingray excursion in Nassau and said it was terrible… five stingray that
seemed poorly cared for in a pen with 70 people from the excursion. Sounds
like if you want to do a Stingray excursion do it in Grand Cayman.
We took 20 people to St. John for the
day when we docked in St. Thomas. This has become an annual event for us. We
rent an open air taxi for the day, stop at Cruz Bay water sports so people
can rent equipment, called a grocery store and ordered picnic lunches and
spent the day at the beach! The views and beaches of St. John are marvelous
and everyone had a good time here.
Labadee and San Juan were fine.
Nothing exciting to report at either stop.
After a great week (other than some of
the staff) we had a disappointment disembarkation. It was a MESS!!! Again,
it was mostly staff attitudes that made this so unpleasant. Royal Caribbean
staff were actually yelling (and I honestly mean yelling) at people for
absolutely no reason. I wish I had my video camera along so I could have
sent it to Royal Caribbean. Their personnel as we left the ship was so nasty
(before we got to the luggage) that the entire situation could be enough to
skip RCI in the future. There were times throughout the week that RCI staff
should have been yelling at passengers, but this wasn’t one of those!
All cruises are good and everyone in
our group thoroughly enjoyed this cruise. Personally, the Explorer, as
pretty as she is, is a bit too large for us and we prefer smaller ships (the
Vision, Mercury or Ocean Princess are about as large as we’ll normally go
in the future). The bigger ships with all their activities make it harder to
relax and they lack the activities that allow you to get to know other
passengers and crew. I feel like I need another vacation now! We also have a
serious concern about the higher percentage of poor staff. When we began
cruising 11 years ago, a poor crew member was few and far between. They were
very noticeable on the Explorer! Fortunately, there were also a lot of great
crew members as well. One has to wonder how the cruise industry will be able
to continue to staff the increasing amount of inventory that is coming
on-line in the next several years. Hopefully, they’ll manage.
2001 Anne Goyer
courtesy of Kvaerner
Return to Royal