Our 22 Cruise to Australia on the Explorer of the Seas
This was our longest cruise ever and for the most part, we were very pleased with the entire experience. This review is an effort to provide specific information to help future cruisers plan a Transpacific cruise and to know more about the ExplorerOTS. Please look on the menu under Europe and Australia. I subdivided the ports and also am doing detailed reviews and travel stories on our adventure at the ports, Sydney, the Blue Mountains, Hobbiton in NZ, and Auckland. More will be added through the end of 2017.
Like most cruisers, we always fly in the day before our sailing. We had previously stayed at the SeaTac Sleep Inn and Suites near the airport and found it to be very cruise friendly and efficient, so we booked there. The room was quiet, comfy and there were lots of Explorer of the Seas cruisers joining us.
Port and Embarkation: I had also booked Seattle Express, a very efficient service that picks up passengers at the hotel. We were whisked off to the port at 10:00 AM, and we arrived just before 11:00. The Explorer of the Seas was the only cruise ship in town as Alaska cruising season had just ended. We flew through the check-in process and walked onto the ship at 11:30.
We went to the MDR for embarkation lunch which was probably a mistake since they offered only a very limited buffet and closed at 1PM. The food wasn’t the best either. We met an elderly (80 year old?) Australian lady who shared her experience with US Customs. Seems she neglected to properly check herself out of the USA two years ago and was arrested and put in jail for 16 hours. The worst part, she reported, was not being told why she was arrested. That is a lesson for us all about entering and exiting foreign countries.
A Few Preliminary Notes:
• There were no service pets aboard the ship as Hawaii and Australia have some pretty stringent regulations. Interesting how the dogs disappear when passengers are held to very strict standards.
• The casino does NOT allow smoking, making the air onboard so much easier to handle.
• This cruise had MANY Diamond, Diamond Plus and Pinnacle passengers. The ship turned the cigar lounge into an exclusive Pinnacle lounge since there were 25 of them aboard. There were close to 1,000 Diamond and Diamond Plus cruisers and the assigned lounge was of course too small so the Star Lounge was turned into the Diamond and above lounge for cocktail hours. There were also 600 Gold and Emerald status cruisers (that includes us). I didn’t meet any people with Diamond attitudes, but the Diamond people seemed to be the ones who complained about their peers. Go figure.
This sailing had four major groups: About 1,000 North Americans, 800 Australian/NewZealanders, and a significant number of Asians (from North American and Asia) and Germans. The Americans and Ozzies mixed very well while the other groups seemed to stay within their own circles. It was perhaps the most segregated cruise I have experienced.
We chose the 5:30 time and were immediately presented with a problem on our first day. At our table were a French Canadian couple who spoke little (husband) to no English (wife), four no-shows, and another couple who were, let’s say, somewhat unappealing (he rarely spoke and she never smiled.) For the first time in our cruising experiences, we decided to seek out another table. The maître-de was very sympathetic and selected a new table for us the next evening. This group was the best we have ever had! Almost everyone showed up each night, and we looked forward to hearing about one another’s day and sometimes hung out together outside of evening dinner times. I think everyone sincerely enjoyed one another’s company.
The food in the MDR at dinner was fine, but not spectacular or memorable. Our service team was efficient and kind. Most of those at our table loved the cold fruit soups, and it was served every night in a goblet rather than a cup. I was surprised at how many other tables seemed to have irregular attendance.
Lunch in the MDR was preferred to the Windjammer which was hit or miss and almost always crowded. There were some very nice selections on the MDR menu in addition to their salad buffet at lunch. The breakfast menu was the same each day, but there was also a buffet of basic foods. The atmosphere in the MDR was so much better with responsibly prompt and efficient service.
We had dinner just once in the Windjammer and it is quiet before the first show lets out and then becomes quite active. We would sometimes go to look at the WJ after we ate in the MDR. The food looked fine and of course there was variety but most wasn’t overly appealing. The desserts were sporadic and somedays featured only pudding sorts of desserts and one bread pudding.
The other complimentary dining was in the Café Promenade which offered continental breakfast items and sandwiches and wraps at lunch. The staff had a challenge keeping up with making coffee because of the lack of other early morning options. People were trying their best to adjust to the frequent time changes, so there were always people in the Café in the very early morning. There was one poolside luncheon which was very minimal and uninspired.
As Cruise Critic members, we had the chance to do a cabin crawl which allows you to see examples of various types of cabins and suites. The inside cabins were a reasonable size with a loveseat and the suites all varied with amenities and other features. Be sure to check out cabin reviews on Cruise Critic and Youtube to actually see what the cabin looks like. The top suites, nice as they are, still don’t compare to those on NCL in the Haven which allow passengers exclusive access to the Haven pool and decks, more free amenities, a butler, and a Lavazza coffee machine. RCL just has Mr. Coffee makers.
If you discover that your mattress is too hard, ask for an insert which should help. Gold and above receive terry robes. Our cabin was comfortable and well attended.
Medical Issues (some cautionary notes)
Transatlantic and Transpacific cruises seem to attract people who have upper respiratory illnesses (coughs and colds) which are so easy to transmit to other passengers. Despite frequent handwashing, not touching the railing, using our knuckles or wrist for the elevator buttons, etc., we both caught the virus mid cruise. Fortunately, we have learned to bring a well-considered medical kit filled with medicines, cough drops, a thermometer, etc. The most effective medicines would be Nyquil and Dayquil. Be sure to bring an expectorant and cough suppressant.The ship store ran out of Nyquil, and you can’t find a similar product west of Hawaii.
One passenger suffering an acute attack of appendicitis resulted in Mystery Island being cancelled on this sailing. Although there was grumbling, most accepted it as a responsible action. We were actually at Mystery Island in the morning but didn’t begin to tender when the decision to take the patient to Lifou was made. The ship went back out to sea for the night and returned the next morning. BTW- I was told that the suffering passenger returned to the ship two days later and continued on to Sydney.
One topic that might be helpful is the idea of cruising with an elderly person with dementia. Three of our dinner partners were medical personnel (a doctor and two EMTs) who came upon a frightening situation where an elderly woman was outside her cabin and quite disoriented. She told them that her sister had died. There was no responsible relative nearby, and our friends were worried they would find a dead woman in her cabin. They called for the ship’s medical help, and a regular staff member told them they would take over. This staff person was obviously not well trained because medically trained people are mandated to only turn over a patient to another health care professional. The woman’s son appeared and took over, and that is another story that won’t be discussed here. The lesson learned is that anyone considering taking a person with dementia on a cruise should think long and hard. New situations are very stressful for these patients, and you can’t guarantee you can be with the patient 100% of the time.
Seasickness: The winds on day 2 were wicked and caused a jerking and rolling motion which resulted in a wave of seasickness around the ship. This was my first time ever with this problem and it was severe and I’m a veteran of transatlantic sailings. An officer told me it was his first time also, and he has done nine TP sailings. Customer service provides free seasickness tablets upon request.
Here is a question we will all have to answer one day: are we getting too old and feeble to cruise or go on some excursions? In Maui, we waited for a very feeble and weak elderly man in a wheelchair to board the tender. The seas were really rocking and “his able bodied attendant” was his elderly wife who knew how to fold up the chair and did not assist. It took three crew members to assist him while he screwed up the courage to make the one required step on and off the tender. I felt sorry for him as his facial expression was of real fear and apprehension as he stood there to make the decision to move. Besides making the other passengers sit for quite a while on a wild tender boat, this couple’s decision to go on this tender put the crew at risk of injury. BTW- have you noticed that many bad cc reviews are written by people with physical limitations who feel the crew didn’t accommodate them adequately? I certainly can see the cruise line’s dilemma and situation with these problems.
A man we met on the first night had been very ill and had almost died three weeks during his brief time in the USA before the cruise. He was not seen after that first night. Many of us wondered how he was allowed to embark in the first place. Our suspicion is that he was taken off in Hawaii. The cruise lines need to do a better job in their health assessment of obviously ill passengers.
The Sound Waves stayed with the sailing for all 22 days and they were excellent. The singer even worked through her upper respiratory illness and deserves lots of praise for that. The other bands that rotated were the typical Caribbean sort of band that seemed to have the same beat.
David Curtis, a pianist, singer and great entertainer was a ship favorite at the Schooner Bar. Robbie McNay entertained in the Pub and was also very good.
Segundo was a classical guitarist who was very skilled who played in various venues.
As usual, The Ice Show was very impressive and the skaters really looked like they wanted to entertain and smiled throughout the shows. Gold status and above Crown and Anchor passengers were treated to an additional show during the last week of the cruise.
The Production Cast performed three shows in the twenty two days we sailed. The set design was excellent in some cases, but the shows were just okay.
There were quite a few opportunities for ball room style dancing in the evening with the Sound Waves. The ship also offered dance lessons on sea days with Joy and Emanuel. They were excellent teachers, but the venue for this event (the theater stage) was so small with way too many people. There were some folks who wanted to stand on the stage and just video tape the lessons but not participate. Fortunately, the instructors were pros at crowd control. These lessons should have been held on the larger wooden floor of the Ice Rink, but they were having “technical difficulties” with the floor, and many planned events like the Master Chef competition never happened because of this floor problem.
Headline Entertainers: There were a series of entertainers ranging from pianists, singers, jazz musicians, comedians, jugglers, etc. A few who were outstanding were Mr. and Mrs. Smith (Hayden Smith) and three male entertainers from Australia who were closer to the end of the cruise. In all, it was a respectable line up of talented people.
Folkloric Hulau Hula Olana, a group from a hula school in Honolulu presented in the theatre on the evening we were in Oahu. They were sensational! The youngest girls were so skilled and graceful and danced with the same precision as the older girls. Not to be missed! Some friends who attended Germaine’s Luau (which wasn’t the sensational experienced promised), really regretted missing this opportunity. BTW- the very best Luau experience for cruisers is only for those who have are active or retired military. Search on CC for details.
Leanne Fiedler presented a series of lectures on the ports and other related topics. She is well traveled and has been to these islands and ports about thirty times. Her advice was spot on and helpful in planning the details.
Paul Kearney provided a series of lectures on music history that seemed to be appreciated by many passengers.
Tracey Hawkins presented a series of lectures on crime investigations (autopsies, criminal investigations, etc.)
There were the typical activities such as trivia, tournaments, seminars, competitions, scrapbooking, a book club, arts and crafts, games, etc. The staff did a good job at providing a wide variety of activities. The sports areas were kept busy on nice weather days, and the pool area was never overcrowded.
The ship opened up one level of the dining room for cards and games from about 9:00- 3:00 each day. This helped to keep the monopolization of Solarium and deck area tables to a minimum.
These were hit and miss. The Halloween party was held in the Ice Rink and was entertaining. This is probably the first time that the Thriller dance made total sense on a cruise ship, and the passengers did a great job. Kudos for a nice job in decorating. The music that followed was of the line dancing sort.
The Octoberfest was a major disaster. Now, the ship knew they had a significant number of Germans onboard and could have asked if they had no clue about what happens at this important ethnic festival. It began with a silly game of musical chairs, but with bottles instead. It took forever, and by the time it ended all the Germans had gone to a tavern on Deck four for their own Octoberfest. The dancing was so “unGerman”, no German beer at the bar, etc. We left as soon as we saw this event was silly and quite disappointing.
The activity staff often doesn’t know how to read the pulse of certain groups of cruisers. One example was conducting a twist contest for about 20 minutes while the majority just wanted to get out there and dance! The British Invasion Night was the activity staff (pretty weak) dancing on the bridge in the Promenade. Dancers really don’t want to watch the activity staff dance as the feature of the evening.
The ship provided services for the Roman Catholics with a priest who offered daily mass. He was also in charge of the nondenominational service on Sundays. I’m not sure what he thinks nondenominational means as he reflected on the wisdom of Erma Bombeck and Eleanor Roosevelt during his message.
The Jewish passengers were offered the chapel for weekly Sabbath services.
A group of Protestants attempted to reserve a room for a fellowship/Bible study, but the ship was uncooperative. Sheldon promised the same venue to a few other groups during the same time period. We were all told he confirmed it. It finally worked out that we met in the chapel on sea days at 2PM with a group of about 15-20 who met each sea day. When this problem was brought to the ship’s attention, they listed a 10 AM self-led Bible study in the chapel (that was not led by anyone), but a Chinese group of Christians held their Bible Study there from 9:00-11:30 each day. What was RCL thinking?
The fitness area and instruction room were busy but not overly so. The activity level varied with the health of the passengers. They could use another rowing machine in there!
The Cruise Critic folks are always the ones in the know and lots of fun, and I was shocked that many Diamond and above folks have never heard of the website. For those who aren’t aware, http://www.cruisecritic.com is the world’s largest cruise website, and the best parts are the roll calls, reviews and port of call boards. The majority of people on this board are very knowledgeable and helpful and will answer all sort of questions. The roll calls are for a particular sailing, and someone who signs up for a cruise when the cruise is first listed usually starts one.
On Cruise Critic (CC), you can log in and discuss questions or offer advice to your fellow cruisers. You have the opportunity to get to know these folks before you sail. Topics range from hotel and flight advice to finding the best tours and adventures at each port. The CCs usually have CC only activities onboard such as the Meet and Mingle (hosted by the ship), a slot pull, a cabin crawl, LRC and other games, etc. This group organized a group of twenty at tables in MyTime Dining. BTW- the officer and crew want to make the CCs happy, because this website provides an opportunity to review the cruise and the ship wants to impress!
Voom sputtered along on many days in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. There were many frustrated people as the connections were erratic. There was a person at the help desk in the internet center, but he was often not able to help.
The first few days out of Seattle were a bit chilly, and the temperatures improved as we neared Hawaii. There were two sea days of gloomy, rainy weather and one pretty steamy day on about day 8 or 9. The weather as we neared the equator really was quite pleasant. The Pacific Islands were cooler than most passengers had expected and it definitely wasn’t warm swimming weather. Sydney’s weather ranged from sunny and quite warm to breezy and a bit chilly (in just three days’ time.)
We officially crossed the equator on Oct 17 at 7:21 AM. There was a poolside ceremony around lunchtime (I didn’t attend) but every passenger received their Imperium Neptuni Regis Certificate to show that they were initiated as a trusty shellback into the Solemn Mysteries of the Ancient Order of the Deep. The air temperature was about 80◦ at the equator.
The entire process went smoothly with no problems.
The ship’s crew are excellent and friendly, the ship is clean and well maintained (although shows a bit of wear), the entertainment and most activities were good to excellent, Dan the cruise director was great, a dance instructor couple was very helpful, and the food quality and selections were fine (but not great.)
Lifou didn’t offer any really interesting options, the officers did not mix with the regular passengers (they were visible at the Diamond and Plus Cocktail hours), health screening needs to be stepped up as some very ill people managed to get onboard, the quality of the desserts in the MDR and Windjammer were sporadic, the staff didn’t accommodate the large number of ballroom dancers, and the high number of Diamond and above passengers were allotted a large number of public areas which diminished the space for the non-higher tier passengers.