Wayne & Carrie Bender
Occupation:Business System Consultant
Number of Cruises: 3
Cruise Line: Royal Caribbean
Ship: Explorer of the Seas
Sailing Date: November 9th, 2002
Itinerary: Western Caribbean
Explorer of the Seas, what a beautiful ship! The handicap suite was absolutely beautiful. There was more than ample room to navigate the cabin This was the first cruise where my wheelchair bound wife could even enter the handicap bathroom. She even was able to use the shower this time. Getting onto the ship was another story again. Wedding Parties and Crown and Anchor member (Past RCL Cruisers) received priority access even though RCL brochures say handicap and special needs cruisers would be allowed early boarding. We did a 2-day pre-cruise land package and booked air through RCL as well. After arriving at the Miami airport we were told we had no transfer even though it was included with air booking. They even told us that they wouldn't provide transfer to the Inter-Continental Hotel, again booked through RCL, because they don't use that hotel. I think the problem here is that RCL has switched to the Fontainebleau for next year. We called our travel agent from the airport. He call RCL himself and they told him that they would have provide transfer on a one day pre-book package but not a two day. Both options are in their catalog. RCL says in their new travel documents booklet which includes vouchers for all included transfers to contact the RCL Cruise Hospitality desk at your hotel to arrange for transfer to pier. The problem is there is no such thing. Our transfer to pier was scheduled for 1:00 pm the day of sailing, so much for early check-in. We called at 9:00 am and spoke with Customer service. They said special needs or not we would not be getting a transfer any earlier than 1:00. I ended up having the bellman at the hotel find us transportation with a lift to accommodate my wife in the chair. So opting to pay our own way to the pier at a cost of $22.00 compared to $5.00 for a regular cab. Even at that it was well worth it. At least we stood a fighting chance for check-in. Airport arrivals and people who provided their own transportation were already lined up at 11:00 when we got to the pier. There must have been 200 people already in line. I asked for special needs assistance because my wife is in a wheelchair and un-able to stand at all. Their assistance was showing us the elevator. We were then placed behind the Wedding Parties. Then even though we were standing in line waiting for check-in windows to open they rolled several people in wheelchairs right past us to the front of the line. After checking in they had us go back to the same area we had been waiting even though as it turned out the line to get in was at the opposite side of the large registration area. When they cleared the ship for boarding I had to push my wife's wheelchair and drag our carry-on bag behind me. The ramp was an incline uphill all the way. Several RCL personnel went right past us and failed to even offer assistance. It wasn't until I caught up to the Wedding party in front of us that the Wedding planner offered to carry my bag. The suite was absolutely marvelous. We could move about very well, even on the balcony. VERY NICE!
The lunch buffet was very good. What a difference in personnel. They even offered to carry the plate for Carrie through the line. This was a Night and Day difference from the shore-side staff. RCL's Accessible Seas brochure states that at least one pool and whirlpool would be equipped with a lift. We did find the pool but not the whirlpool. It didn't matter though because you needed to find a pool attendant to get the lift set-up. Pool attendants were not to be found poolside. There was an abundance of them in the Video arcade however.
The main dining room was breath taking and a real joy to behold. The portions were much larger than we were used to on other cruise lines. That was a good thing since they were so proud of their food that they didn't want top part with it! The waiter actually made you feel like stealing directly from them if you hinted at a second entree. Believe me I tried often but was only successful at getting seconds on one occasion. I gave up trying to get more Prime Rib. The variety of selections on the menu was not the type that would make you want to try everything. Fortunately the portion were fairly sizeable. In the past we had trouble deciding one only one appetizer or Entree and ended up going with several. Again that was on other Cruise lines, not a problem with RCL. We didn't go hungry by any means but were quite disappointed by both selection and ability to try many things or even seconds. This was our first cruise that required use of a tender. We were pleasantly surprised as they were in most cases a roll on and a roll off situation.
Disembarking was no less frustrating than getting on. Never mind that you have special needs. I asked three different people at guest relations about procedure for special needs. They all said wait for your color to be called. They wanted you to check out of your stateroom by 8:00 am. If you required assistance you were told to go to a bar area and wait for announcements. Other passengers got to go the the theater and watch Friends on TV screens. They even served them juice and rolls. In stead we went to the bar area where the piped in music was extremely loud, several people had the same comments. When announcements, which were scarce, were made they didn't turn off the music so they could be heard. We were the fifth color to be called and even though I asked all three Guest Relations personnel none of them would change our color to an earlier departure time.
The cruise itself was fantastic. There was never a lack of activities to fill the days. We never had a drop of rain the entire trip. What more can you ask for. The vacation was somewhat soured though by the experiences of getting on and off the ship and their lack of assistance or concern on RCL's part. We will have to think long and hard if we want to risk going RCL again. We spent a lot of hard earned money for our vacation and we expect to be treated with a little more dignity than we were afforded.