Love or loathe the idea of a cruise? Once you get a taste of cruising, there will be no turning back and that was exactly what happened to us. From our very first cruise in April with the Voyager of the Seas, we found ourselves again exploring the high seas on board the Explorer of the Seas, Australia’s largest cruise ship launched in 2000.
The two identical floating resorts that we have cruised so far are both operated by Royal Caribbean International, voted as best cruise line overall by Travel Weekly for 13 consecutive years.
Our 3 nights 4 days cruise sampler with Explorer of the Seas departed from the Overseas Passenger Terminal at Circular Quay in Sydney. The check in and security check were seamless and even breezier since we didn’t have any luggage to check in, just carry-on bags, so straight to the check in counter then through the airport style security screening.
After our SeaPass cards (charge card) were activated and authorised, we were ready to board the vessel. Our Stateroom was 9594, a junior suite on Deck 9. It was furnished with a kingsize bed that can be converted into twin beds if required, also a sofa bed, chairs, vanity table with expandable working surface for laptop, mini bar, safe, hair-dryer, flat screen tv, mini fridge and 110/220 power points. We had a good sized bathroom with bathtub, hand held shower, towels and quality toiletries. Opposite the bathroom was a walk-in wardrobe, a big space with shelves, racks with hangers and two complementary bathrobes. The private balcony was no doubt my favorite area, it had a table with 2 chairs and a reclining deckchair, as we were on the port-side, we had spectacular views of the Opera House and the Northern Peninsular as we headed out to sea, its also a perfect place to soak up the sun and see those amazing sunset and sunrise moments. Although the room was maintained and generally clean, it was showing signs of wear and tear and a little dated in parts, other than that, a wonderful space to be in.
Depending on your mood, activities on-board are endless, each day your cabin steward will leave a copy of the Royal Caribbean Cruise Compass, it’s a list of all the daily activities. If you’re planning to watch a show or attend a class for instance, make sure you take note of the time and where the venue is located, it can be a long walk if you forget.
Deck 11 upwards, is the gateway to all the water and outdoor activities including a spacious Gym and Vitality at Sea Spa and Fitness. You can enjoy full sun worshiping with so many adjustable deckchairs available, dip into one of the pools and whirlpools, enjoy soft or alcoholic drinks by one of the pool bars, relax in the solarium area with an adult only pool, grab an ice cream, participate in one of daily games, the Belly-Flop competition is a classic to watch or simply listen to the band play. If your tummy rumbles, just head on to the Windjammer Cafe, a buffet style with a wide range of food stations catering to just about every ones tastes. If you’re planning an intimate dinner, then check out The Chops Grille Steakhouse on this deck. Smokers are accommodated on a designated part of this deck, as well as a designated part of deck 4.
Deck 12 & 13 are the playgrounds for the young and not so young at heart. Choices of adrenaline pumping activities such as brisk walking around the running track, conquering those fears by rock climbing, a game of basketball or table tennis, a ride with simulated waves at FlowRider, or a quick round of mini golf. It’s also the level of the video arcade, the 1950’s style American Johnny Rockets burger joint and the Sky Bar for uninterrupted views of the ocean and the pool areas.
Deck 14 & 15 are the levels for the Diamond Club, the Japanese restaurant Izumi which offers sushi, sashimi, ramen and the famous table side hot rocks cooking and the vessel’s Chapel.
With total of 15 decks, 311 metres long and 48 meters wide, the best way to navigate in between is by the use of lifts, though they can be a bit hit and miss, best to use the stairs if you can, its a great way of burning off the delights of the Windjammer.
The lower Decks from 2 to 5 provide entertainment day and night. You can catch a show at the colossal Palace Theatre. Ascend to the next deck and you’ll find The Art Gallery, the imposing Sapphire Dining Room and Studio B, which has ice shows and skating during the day. You can bar hop for drinks at The Tavern and Schooner Bar, or try your luck at the Casino Royale, if Italian fare inspires you, then Giovanni’s Table is also on this level.
The Royal Promenade, is the main indoor street stretching three-quarters of the ships length, is quieter during the day, a good place for people watching while enjoying a cold beer or cocktail at the Crown & Kettle Pub an English style Public House. Light snacks like pizza, subs and other patisseries are available at the Cafe Promenade including ice cream and Starbucks coffee. Shop till you drop with designer labels and souvenirs but if you want a bargain make sure to check out the special ‘Sale’ time when prices are sliced down with big discounts.
At night, the Royal Promenade comes to life with bargains, live shows, street dancing and parades. You can grab a drink from the Star Lounge or R Bar or any bars and take it along with you as you wonder off around the promenade. We were lucky enough to stand close to the stage and watched the spectacular production of ‘Rock Britannia’.
If you can handle late night dancing and want to let your hair down, then check out Studio B, it is converted into a big dance floor at night with a mesmerising light display and on-board DJ pumping tracks from disco and beyond.
What a rejuvenating few days at sea, but sadly the cruise has to end, when we woke up our ship was entering the Heads, making its way to the Cruise Terminal, time to say sayonara to the Captain and the crew.
<to be continued, food and drinks review>
What’s your favourite cruise memory? let us know, we might consider it next time.