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Royal Caribbean InternationalExplorer the Seas ReviewEastern CaribbeanTodd De Haven

Age: 59

Occupation:Retired Law Enforcement

Number of Cruises: First One!

Cruise Line: Royal Caribbean

Ship: Explorer of the Seas

Sailing Date: June 16th, 2006

Itinerary: NOT FOUND

Royal Caribbean International
Explorer of the Seas Cruise Review
Eastern Caribbean

Todd De Haven

The Set Up
This was our first cruise and as is the case with everyone else who has been so classified, we had nothing with which to compare our experience. Having said that, I shall state that I have spent the last year reading literally hundreds of reviews of the various ships, lines, etc., my favorites being of course by Tom and Mary Milano. I have also spent untold hours on a personal website that is an absolute must for anyone who either already has or intends sailing upon an Eagle (or Voyager) Class ship; Voyager-Class.com. As the late Justin Wilson from Baton Rouge, Louisiana used to say, "I gaurrronteee" that once you visit that site you will be as completely bowled over as was I, especially if you take into account that it was constructed by a Parisian, Romaine Moisescot, who was only fourteen when he started building the site five years ago.

We initially left our home in upper East Tennessee and drove to Staten Island, New York the place of my wife’s birth and checked into the Hilton Garden Inn. I remember it wasn’t all that many years ago when Staten Island didn’t even have a viable hotel or motel. That is certainly no longer the case. The Hilton is excellent albeit doesn’t fall into the "budget" category. I understand there are more hotels either in the process of being built or in the planning stages for Staten Island, so the situation will improve still further. The next morning we, along with my wife’s two nieces and a grand niece all gathered at the home of one and departed together for Bayonne.

Embarkation
Our first view as we crossed the Bayonne Bridge of the gorgeous 142,000 ton Explorer of the Seas sitting majestically at her pier, brought forth exclamations from us all. Even though over the past year I’ve seen countless pictures of this vessel and her sisters, I can only say that I’m glad I wasn’t driving for I couldn’t take my eyes from her. Only at that moment was I convinced that finally my dream was reality, I was actually going to board the Explorer.

Coming back to earth, I hoped my apprehension at checking-in wouldn’t be confirmed. As a retired law enforcement officer and police firearms instructor for the State of New York, I can well relate as to how governmental agencies can drown you in paper work. I expected to be so inundated when it came to being processed onto the Explorer. Hardly the case at all. We all were aboard within fifteen minutes of arriving at check in.

Stateroom
Immediately upon boarding the vessel we, as requested at reception, immediately took the elevator up to deck 11 to do the "Windjammer" buffet lunch. The offerings were excellent in all categories (taste, appearance, etc.). I know one can probably get to their stateroom early to drop off their carry-ons but I happen to believe that rules are made for a reason so, we waited until the appointed 1:00pm before visiting our staterooms. Ours was 9202 located directly beneath the Bridge and is classified as a large ocean view. It is unusual in that it is one of only a relative handful of staterooms that over look the bow of the ship. I have heard how small cruise ship staterooms are etc., but again I was most pleasantly surprised. At 211 Sq Ft. the room was far more than ample in size for two people. The bed is listed as two singles configured as a queen, however we found it to be far larger than our queen sized bed in our guest bedroom and at least as wide if not as long as our own king sized bed. My wife brought along probably enough outfits to last her until Christmas (six pieces of checked luggage plus a large carry-on and my notebook). My initial thought was, "Well, we’ll be living out of suitcases for ten days ‘cause there ain’t gonna’ be anywhere near enough room to properly stow all of the stuff." Wrong again! Yes the closet was pretty full but not completely and there were plenty of drawers, cabinets and shelving for folded items, etc. Although we took the advice and brought along a shoe hanger with pockets in which to put toiletries, etc., we personally found it unnecessary as there was ample storage for all of our things in the medicine cabinet on the right side of the bathroom sink mirror or on the sink itself. All of our luggage (which admittedly included four pieces that "nested") disappeared completely beneath the bed. The television offered far more selections than I ever would have imagined, including satellite news channels, etc. I kind of liked the "personal touch" of being greeted by name when turning on the TV.

The bathroom was also quite sufficient with the shower being much larger than I anticipated. At 6'4" and 270 lbs, I had plenty of space. I believe why most folks feel the shower is so "tiny" is because one gets used to that to which one is usually accustomed and the average home shower arrangement is far larger than the one on Explorer. But having had a shower in our 2nd bathroom when we lived in New York that was even smaller than that on the ship, I found the one in stateroom 9202 to be sufficiently roomy.Our Steward, Gregory Downs was of course professional, kept our stateroom in impeccable order and always took the time to exchange extended pleasantries as we passed in the hall.

Internet Access
As Tom Ogg has stated in his marvelous recent review of the Explorer, the vessel offers wi-fi internet access in several packages. The one I purchased was 150 minutes for $50.00 which turns out to be 30 cents per minute. Not bad at all. My only complaint was that disconnecting took an inordinate amount of time to complete (and remember, the clock is rolling if you do not purposefully disconnect, whether or not you are using the service). In any event, the one time it took me forever to disconnect, Guest relations immediately credited my account a commensurate amount of time. I discovered following three days of initially using the Crown and Kettle pub, that the Café Promenade is another "hot spot". My typing improved tremendously following my move to the Café – probably due to the fact that Bass Ale was unavailable at that venue.

Royal Promenade
“Fantastic,” “unbelievable,” “absolutely gorgeous,” “breathtaking” are but only a handful of comments I heard from fellow passengers upon first seeing the Royal Promenade. If anything, most are understatements. Being a very early riser, as I would gaze out into the empty Promenade sipping my morning coffee, I just couldn’t force myself to believe I was anywhere other than in a unique and very upscale mall somewhere as opposed to being aboard a vessel doing 22 knots as it passed over the surface of the Atlantic. That extremely pleasurable while very calming experience alone, is one that will stay with me for the rest of my life.

Should you worry about motion sickness?
Having never been to sea on anything larger than a 65 foot fishing boat, neither my wife nor I initially intended to take any chances. The morning prior to boarding, my wife put the old patch behind her ear. I on the other hand, decided to try without one. As it turned out I never did find it necessary to take anything for seasickness. But that’s me. Everyone is different. My wife was fairly confident that had she not taken anything, she may well have experienced nausea. We were after all, high up and over the bow. If you’re going to experience motion, you’re going to experience it there and yes we did. But I found the soft usually barely perceptible rocking and swaying to be even cathartic, allowing me to sleep more soundly than I have in months. Bear in mind, however, that seas never exceeded 1.5 to four feet for the entire voyage of around 3,600 miles. I’m sure things would be mighty different in a storm or if one were crossing the North Atlantic in winter time, albeit the ship does have stabilizers. I doubt though, that they were ever deployed during our cruise. Nevertheless, some folks did become ill so it’s best to plan for the worst and be pleasantly surprised.


Dining, Etc.
We were assigned the Magellan Dining Room on Deck 3 and our party of 13 were divided between tables 333 and 334. Our Waiter Richard Blasko hails from Slovakia and his assistant, Themilla Ramsen from India. Our efficient and friendly headwaiter, Vinod Poovathingal also called India home. Right here and now, I would like to make myself perfectly clear on one thing. I may not be an epicurean when it comes to food but I will admit to being a gourmand. I have certainly dined in some of the finest restaurants in New York City and Miami and I lived for years just up Route 9 from the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York. Suffice it to say that I do have some fairly decent credentials when it comes to judging cuisine, if for no other reason (and I assure you that there are) than my ample physique. I don’t know about other ships, other cruise lines or even other cruises on this particular vessel. I can only state that the cuisine on the Explorer on this cruise was nothing less than exceptional. While it may not truly be five star, it has been my personal experience that absent a trained professional, those who often insist they are familiar with such levels were truth be told and under controlled conditions utilizing all applicable factors, to be unable to differentiate among upper culinary levels. In any event, such things are subjective. Suffice it to say that if one is disappointed with the quality of dining and level of service that we personally experienced while claiming they know better, then I might be forced to conclude that individual to be a tad pretentious. Of course, such comments would be understandable were they to be proffered by the "Nouveau riche."

The table service that we received from Richard was nothing short of impeccable. His professionalism far exceeded that I’ve ever experienced anywhere else and that includes several four star and one five star restaurant to which I previously alluded (kinda’ like pulling the rug from under the vaunted Michelin ranking, huh?). Richard’s most outstanding asset was that he was so very personable yet without ever becoming too familiar. Of course he remembered each of our likes and dislikes but what I found most intriguing was his innate ability to anticipate and fulfill desires before they were even requested. Now try equaling that! Most importantly, he cared! His dry wit was absolutely marvelous and his interaction with each of us was most entertaining. As my wife remarked, it also didn’t hurt that all the women in the group found Richard to be........well, let’s just say they all but one wished they were 30 years younger, and that exception, an extremely attractive young lady of 21, was nothing less than crushed when she learned that Richard is engaged to Georgiana Ciobanu, an adorable young woman from Romania who works in the ship’s Casino. To be quite honest with all things considered, everyone at our table felt that Richard Blasko was the greatest single item when it came to making our cruise the best vacation any of us had ever taken. When one thinks about it, that’s a major accolade for any individual.

The Coffee
Now, something about what may well be the currently most argued facet on all the cruise boards ... the coffee. My gosh with everything I’d read I was expecting to drink a beverage ranging from slightly improved liquid tar to something approximating black water swill. Well I’m here to tell you that my benchmark when it comes to coffee is that served by Dunkin’ Donuts. I don’t go for "designer" coffees and were I to some day even become "well heeled," would nevertheless never pay that amount for a cup of coffee anyway. Suffice it to say that by what some of you may conclude are rather pedestrian standards, I found the coffee on the Explorer to be just fine, thank-you. And yeah, while they’re not as good as my wife’s, those chocolate chip cookies at the Promenade Café are the best commercially produced cookies I’ve ever eaten – and I definitely am a certified PCCC (Professor of Chocolate Chip Cookies).

The Incomparable Staff
To an individual, I found no crew member aboard the Explorer of the Seas who was not at all times the epitome of both kindness and professionalism. Whether it be Aurora Martins helping to keep the Royal Promenade spic and span or Gabrial Fernandez, who while on duty in the Promenade Café would stop right in the middle of whatever he was doing just to ask me if he could get me another cup of coffee or a danish; they were to an individual, outstanding. We in the United States have to a huge degree, lost what I refer to as "friendly civility," especially in the service related professions and industries. To some degree it still exists in the South but even there it’s rapidly disappearing. Not only is this a loss to our culture, it can also result in a severe economic loss. Of all the cruise reviews I’ve read, there is one cruise line out there that I won’t identify that were I to be it’s Chief Executive Officer, I’d be apoplectic. One outfit simply cannot have as many negative reviews as this particular line and not have major problems. Why? Simply because that many people can’t be wrong. And isn’t it interesting that the one ship of this company that is the hands down winner for the most negative comments relative to rude, insolent and uncaring staff, is crewed primarily by American young people. To my way of thinking, we are truly missing the boat (pun definitely intended).

Passengers
About the only questionable conduct I observed (and that was minor), originated with the passengers. While the behavior of most was impeccable, there were a few boorish exceptions. What bothered me the most was observing young children (below the age of ten) being allowed to climb all over the stage prior to the evening shows and attending late night barbecues and climbing up on railings with nothing on the opposite side except an eleven story drop to the black waters of a late night Atlantic. There didn’t seem to be a parent in the vicinity (or if there were, they obviously didn’t care) and were it not for very concerned crew as well as unrelated passengers, a tragedy could well have occurred. I witnessed relatively few cases involving those who imbibed to such a degree as to visit various stages of intoxication commonly referred to (depending upon which part of the country one hails) as, "Blitzed, "Plastered," "Plowed," "Snockered" and of course let us not forget, "All Fired Up!" Nonetheless those who did, behaved themselves rather well and a good time appeared to be had – that is at least until the following morning at which time the innocuously melodious ring of the telephone, probably for them approximated a Klaxon sounding a call to battle stations aboard a U.S. Navy warship.

Entertainment and Activities
As for entertainment, the Explorer of the Seas certainly deserves the moniker "Destination ship." If you’re bored while aboard this vessel, you’re a hopeless case. This ship offers structured activities for virtually every minute of the day and if nothing in that category strikes your fancy, there’s about a thousand and one other more personalized activities available and this isn’t even including ports of call.

The Planet Ice show in the Studio B arena deserves every accolade that everyone before me has written and is indeed far more moving than any Holiday on Ice review I remember seeing. The performances are flawless in their execution. It came as no surprise to learn that a majority of the skaters are Russian. Additionally the choreography is magnificent.

Just as talented, are the Royal Caribbean Singers and Dancers. In fact they’re so good that following their Sunday night performance they were off to the airport at Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas Virgin Islands to catch a flight to Las Vegas to perform out there! The group was scheduled to return to the ship when it concluded this voyage at Bayonne.

Due to the absence of the Royal Caribbean troupe, four "special" performers had been scheduled. In order of the nights of their appearance they were; from Venezuela, Oscar Silvera aka "El Gaucho” who is both a heck of a musician and a magician with what we in this country call “bolos”; Greg Bonham, a world class trumpeter and entertainer from Australia; Billy Fellows out of New York by way of Vegas and who remains at age 70, a wonderful entertainer and the Knutsen brothers who are simply unreal. The Knutsen’s "schtik" is that they verbally reproduce the sounds of whatever instruments are necessary for the song they are performing. One would swear there are musical instruments or sound tracks involved but they’re not. A very high energy act, it is one not to be missed whether you be on the Explorer or out in Las Vegas.

Ports of Call
Of the Ports of Call, at only one, Charlotte Amali, did I personally really get "out and about". There, my wife and I took a tour of the island conducted by Shane Benjamin (insearchof-vi@earthlink.net),who owns his own tour company in addition to being a full time fireman at the island’s airport. Shane was quite affable, a wealth of knowledge and very accommodating, especially to the shoppers on the tour. I highly recommend him.

Disembarkation
Finally we come to disembarkation. I love the Explorer and it’s staff, dining, attractions, etc. However.....I uhhhhhh......think that maybe we need just a weeeee bit more "tweaking" in the disembarking procedures department. Are you reading this, Mr. Fain? That’s something only corporate can correct by maybe having a meeting with Customs officials. Two Customs officers to process over 3000 persons in two hours is a bit much to ask of those overworked and underpaid professionals. If corporate seriously wishes to effectively address even that problem, my suggestion would be to merely leave it up to the ship’s staff for obviously they, along with the Customs Officers would probably quickly figure out how to "Git er done!" to everyone’s satisfaction.

Summary
To summarize: the ship was a marvel, the dining experience at all levels was unsurpassed, the entertainment was all first class and most importantly, the diligence of the entire crew, regardless of age or ranking, was absolutely awe inspiring.

On your next cruise, make it a point to as often as possible approach a crew member, any crew member and as Glen Campbell used to sing, "Try a little kindness." Let these people know how much you appreciate what they do for you. I "guarrronteeee!" that in return, your own cruise experience will be much the better for it. If you should require any further information, feel free to contact me at todd85@xtn.net.

 

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