SUMMARY Explorer of the Seas is a big, well designed ship with plenty to do. Despite generally poor weather, this cruise was both interesting and fun.
EMBARKATION. I arrived at the Cape Liberty Terminal at the time suggested in the materials that Royal Caribbean had sent me. This must have been the peak period for embarkation as there were hundreds of other passengers arriving at the same time. While this was daunting at first, I was amazed at how quickly people were processed through security and then through the check in process. It was extremely efficient.
A delay occurred after check in. The Cape Liberty Terminal is relatively new and the current terminal building is in a converted warehouse. Unfortunately, the place where the ship ties up is about half a mile down the pier from the terminal. As a result, passengers have to take a shuttle bus from the terminal to the ship. Buses arrived and departed every few minutes but with so many people embarking, some waiting is inevitable. The terminal provides tables and chairs for those waiting and there were trays of chocolate chip cookies near the door. This should improve as the terminal is developed.
WEATHER This was an early Spring cruise and the weather varied considerably. On embarkation day, the weather was cold and grey and so one needed a winter coat to watch the ship leave New York harbor from the open deck. By the time we returned, the weather had turned warm and it was like early summer. The first night and the morning of the first day there was a storm. This caused some motion but the passengers were out and about in the public areas which is a testament to Explorer's stability. The motion did however require the postponement of the ice shows that were scheduled for the first sea day.
In Bermuda, the first day began cloudy and by noon it had begun to rain. Nonetheless, most of the passengers were out exploring the island. The next morning, it was gray in the morning but by mid-afternoon when the ship sailed the sun had broken through.
The second full day at sea was warm but still overcast. As a result, passengers were able to make use of the pools and the sports facilities on the open decks.
In sum, the weather was not the best. However, the ship handled it well and the passengers focus necessarily turned to the ship and its facilities because of the inclement weather outside.
STATEROOM: My cabin was an inside cabin toward the front of the ship. It was small but well-deigned containing two beds, a sofa, a glass cocktail table, a desk, two end tables and more than enough drawers and closet space. Among the amenities in the room were a television, a safe and a refrigerator/mini-bar. I had the two beds put together and they took up about a third of the cabin nearly wall-to-wall. However, one could lie there comfortably and watch the television, which ran a series of uninterrupted recent movies as well as various cable television channels.
The bathroom was also small but well laid out. About the size of a telephone booth, the shower had a sliding curved glass door rather than a shower curtain. Not only did this look better but it allowed more light in the shower. While the line did supply soap and there was a dispenser for shampoo in the shower, there were no other free items.
PUBLIC AREAS The public areas of the ship are modern and often quite spectacular. At the center of the ships in the Voyager-class such as Explorer is a long open space, three decks high bounded on either end by atriums that rise through the entire ship. Known as the Royal Promenade, this central area is like a city street or an indoor mall with shops, bars, and eating venues along the way. It is further enhanced by modern sculpture and pop sculptures including a man scaling the walls and a man playing a saxophone on a balcony. Overlooking the Royal Promenade are interior cabins that windows looking out onto the mall. During the course of the day, the lighting is changed, thereby changing the ambiance. Another spectacular area is the Viking Lounge. A trademark Royal Caribbean feature, this area is high on the ship's funnel and from its bars and public rooms there is a spectacular view of the sea. Despite the heavy seas, this area appeared to remain popular throughout the voyage.
In general, the public areas are of contemporary design, made of good quality materials and kept very clean. They are enhanced by contemporary art. On the stairways near my cabin were a series of photographs of rock stars along with autographed instruments including a bass signed by Paul McCartney and a guitar signed by Bruce Springsteen.
ACTIVITIES AND ENTERTAINMENT. Because Explorer is a large ship, there is an extensive array and of facilities. Most of these are geared toward physical activity such as pools, rock climbing, spas, gyms, miniature golf, jogging, basketball, and ice skating. However, there are also shops and plenty of places just to relax. One little known venue is the Screening Room where several times a day recent movies are shown. This is a relatively small room with theater seating and a decent size screen making it a quite comfortable place to watch a film. On two evenings, the shows in the multi-deck Palace Theatre featured comedians and, on two nights, the ship's production company. The production shows were well done. The guest comedians were okay but that is a matter of individual taste. By far the best entertainment during the voyage was the ice show. Ice shows are not something that I normally go to but I had heard good things about it so I joined the queue for tickets. (The tickets are free but because there is so much demand to see the shows, tickets are distributed the first evening of the cruise). In any event, I was quite impressed by the show, which featured excellent skating, lighting and music.
SERVICE The crew on Explorer is very friendly. They consistently say hello whenever they encounter a passenger. In addition, they are well-motivated. For example, in the main dining room, breakfast and lunch are open-seating. As a result, a passenger having breakfast or lunch there is unlikely to encounter the waiters that serve him or her again much less leave a tip at the end of the cruise. Nonetheless, the waiters each day were friendly and tried hard to accommodate special requests.