On Friday I went to Hobart to do some errands. I saw that there was a cruise ship in port and from the chalkboard of a local coffee shop learned that it was Explorer of the Seas. It’s just over two years since we sailed on this ship and only a week now till we set off on our next adventure. I didn’t have my camera with me so as I wanted to practice using it anyway I took this with my phone.
It is not very often you get to see an ice show at sea. In fact I had never been to an ice show before seeing the one on Explorer of the Seas.
The ice skating on Explorer of the Seas is held in Studio B which is a multi purpose venue on Deck 3. There was also open skating for passengers but as I don’t skate I forgot to check out when this was happening. Studio B is a small venue so to attend the ice show you had to go on a designated day based on your Muster number the same as for tickets for the shuttle bus in Picton. Naomi was not interested in seeing the show but I was curious because I thought I might get some good photos.
Video photography was not allowed and flash was forbidden. The former I think was for copyright reasons and the later for safety reasons. The skaters have enough to contend with doing their routines on a moving surface. There were a couple of falls but I was very impressed with their skills dealing with the challenge of ice skating on a ship on a surface that would have been melting because of the lighting. The costumes and lighting were excellent too.
Because of the restrictions I took my little Canon Powershot instead of the Nikon. I was not sure if I would be able to get any good pictures at all without flash but I did get a few. Others were too blurry as I was not quick enough to focus on the movements in low light. The show was based on the four seasons and ran for around an hour from memory, maybe a little less. It was well worth seeing. Here are my best pictures from the show.
As promised this part of the ships tour deals mainly with the Pool Deck and Sports Deck . There are not many public rooms on decks 6-10. The Next Cruise Centre is on Six, the Library and Card Room on Seven and the Online Centre on Eight but mostly these decks are staterooms. We did visit the Library a few times but didn’t find it very well stocked. There were four sets of Mah Jongg which were always in use. We never knew Mah Jongg was so popular, or so noisy. Shuffling all those tiles makes a lot of noise. We went to play Scrabble but on the first day there were only two sets, on our next visit there was only one and the set was incorrect as it had too many of some tiles. After our third visit that set disappeared completely and we had to use Naomi’s Magnetic Travel Scrabble which has really tiny pieces. There was a jigsaw puzzle or two and they had Twister, a strange game to play in a library. If anyone from Royal Caribbean is reading this you need to get more games.
The Online Access Centre had several computers but as the ship has wi-fi all over now I wonder if they really need it. Perhaps for people to upload photos but we were told that the wi-fi was slow and intermittent at sea and it certainly was expensive. We did not expect to spend a lot of time online so while we’d have been happy to pay by the hour for what we used we did not think an expensive internet package was good value for money.
So we’ll continue in the glass elevators that travel up the centre of the ship to Deck 11. Our first stop on Deck 11 was always the Windjammer Marketplace for breakfast. This is the casual dining restaurant and is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. It is a buffet and there are two big sections so there is room for everyone to serve themselves. We were usually up early so we did not often find it crowded. It had a huge variety of things to eat including some I would not have thought of eating for breakfast. While at home I am usually happy with toast, onboard ship we had the choice of scrambled, fried, poached or boiled eggs, several different kinds of sausages, bacon, cereal, porridge, fruit, pancakes or Danish. My favourites were the little English sausages with either fried eggs and bacon or scrambled eggs. I did see some donuts too but I couldn’t quite get my head round the idea of eating chocolate donuts for breakfast. Some days I had fruit to have something healthy. I think the thing with buffets, and we saw a lot of people doing this, is that you don’t have to pile your plate high. Just eat the amount you would normally eat. The Windjammer was open right up until around 11am for breakfast so sometimes if we’d eaten before 7 am we’d pop back in around 10:30 am for a cup of tea and a Danish for morning tea. By this time we would have probably walked around the deck on the walking track a few times and were ready for a snack. Naomi did several laps every day, sometimes morning and night, I had some trouble with my ankle so did not get as much walking done. We would also go up to Deck 12 and play mini golf and later discovered the table tennis tables.
I’m getting ahead of myself though. Deck 11 has the Windjammer, the main pool deck and the Solarium. The main pool deck has hot tubs as well as two larger pools. The big movie screen is up there and at night sometimes people would watch movies in the tub. There were often activities like aqua aerobics in one of the pools and competitions like Officers v Passengers volleyball or the infamous Belly Flop contest. We are not joiners so we usually looked for somewhere quieter when these things were on. Often there would be a band on the Pool Deck as well and both the main pool area and the Solarium had bars.
The Solarium is an adults only area. It has hot tubs and is partly enclosed so it offers shelter from the sun and wind. It is quieter than the main pool deck too as there was no music so we enjoyed sitting there and sometimes took our puzzle books, reading material and so on up there when we wanted to relax. Later in the cruise more people started using it and we had to find another place but for the first few sea days we had no trouble finding a good spot. We also liked the soft serve machine in the main pool area where you could help yourself to a frozen yoghurt during the day.
Also on Deck 11 was Chops Grille, another specialty restaurant. We had a good steak dinner there one night.
Deck 12 is the Sports Deck and has the walking/jogging track, mini golf, rock climbing wall, table tennis, Flow Rider surf simulator and a court where people could play basketball, volleyball etc.
Adventure Ocean the video arcade is on that deck as well. There is a dedicated children’s area too where the few children on board seemed to spend a lot of their time. Passing Adventure Ocean and going towards the stern we found an area with table tennis tables which was a shady place to sit and on the other side Johnny Rockets Diner.
Johnny Rockets is fun. It’s decor is retro although I think it is more a 70s style diner than a 50s one. The menu is hamburgers, hot dogs, club sandwiches and sundaes or apple pie for dessert. It is a specialty restaurant, you have to pay but you don’t have to book and the cost of $7.95 for your main course and dessert is very reasonably. In addition you get the floor show. Every now and then the waiting staff stop what they are doing and go into a dance routine miming to a record, usually either “Love Shack” or “YMCA” by The Village People. Most staff members on Explorer of the Seas seem to dance to YMCA at the drop of a hat as we saw it done at Promenade parties as well. Unfortunately I didn’t get any pictures of them doing this as I didn’t have the camera handy when we went for lunch.
At the other end of the ship there is another bar, the Sky Bar, and the Vitality Spa and Fitness Centre. There you could use the gym equipment and even have the services of a personal trainer for a fee. There was a hair salon and the beauty salon offered such services as tooth whitening, also for a fee. I don’t know about you but I don’t go on holidays to get my teeth whitened. We gave this area a wide berth.
There are still a few odd corners of the ship I haven’t shown you yet but as this post is already rather long I’ll save them for another time. Look out soon for the first post about New Zealand. I am looking forward to sharing it with you all.
The Sapphire Dining Room
As I have explained the main dining area on Explorer of the Seas is called the Sapphire Restaurant and covers three levels. Although the specialty restaurants we visited were very nice this became our favourite place to have dinner. We loved the decor and the great service we received.
Our regular table was next to the atrium and although the view was partially blocked by a curtain we enjoyed looking down to the lower levels of the restaurant especially on nights when there was some kind of entertainment. A couple of times members of the kitchen staff who played musical instruments performed a couple of songs and on other occasions the waiters or chefs paraded round the lower levels of the dining room and then all stood on the staircase and sang.
There were two waiters taking care of our table and several others nearby. Their names were Pepito and Anthony and apart from being excellent waiters they were polite and friendly and Pepito in particular liked to make people laugh. They were obviously quite used to having their photos taken because when I brought the camera in on one of the last nights they were both quick to strike a pose.
On several evenings we noticed a rather sad-faced waiter going around obviously trying to interest diners in buying something. He came to our table a few times and not being sure quite what it was he was selling we said “No thank you.” Then, one night he turned up while we were chatting to Pepito between courses and he introduced him. This time he was taking bookings for an Indian cooking demonstration and lunch. Now that we had been introduced we felt a bit sorry for him because we kept saying no so this time after he ha explained about the lunch we said, “Come and see us again tomorrow and we’ll tell you.” We discussed it and after a while decided that it might be interesting to try some Indian food. Both of us had tried it once and quite liked it, plus a tour of one of the galleys was included and we both wanted to see that. So the next night when the waiter arrived we said that we would go. It was $25 and it sounded like good value for money.
The demonstration was held in a corner of the dining room. There were probably thirty or forty people I guess. We were given a drink of Mango Lassi and then the chef demonstrated how to make it. We liked it, it was somewhat like a smoothie. After that he demonstrated how to make Tandoori Baked Lamb Skewers and Chicken Tikka Masala. I did try to take photos but from where I was sitting I could not get any worthwhile pictures do here is one I borrowed from Wikipedia. I’m sure there are many variations of chicken tikka masala as it is pretty popular in Britain too apparently but it was a first for us.
After the demonstration we were taken in groups to see the galley. Our group was waiting quite a long time so our guide decided to take us to a different area. This was the galley where they prepare meals for room service and do some prep for the evening meals. Consequently it was not as busy as the galley where our lunch was being prepared but it was very interesting to see behind the scenes. One of the chefs showed us how he carved melons decoratively.
The galley was spotlessly clean and I was impressed when we were told that all the food must be changed every four hours as a safety precaution. We were allowed to take photos although not video so here are some that I took on the tour.
After the tour we had lunch which consisted of the dishes we’d seen demonstrated and a couple of others. Some of it we liked, some not so much. We sat at a table with several other people, the only time on the cruise when we shared a table. Naomi and I are not really foodies so we felt a bit out of place. I enjoy my food but I don’t want to spend a lot of time talking about it. Anyway it was a very interesting couple of hours so we were both glad that we went. We plan to make some Lassi ourselves one day now we know how to do it.
In Part Four of the tour we’ll visit the pool deck.
At the end of the last post we were resting our feet in the Star Lounge on Deck 5. Most likely there will be some activity going on in a portion of it so if we don’t want to get shanghaied into joining in we’d best move on. Here is a better picture of the Star Lounge taken by Naomi on one of her early morning walks. Mine was taken when we went there for Muster and the lighting was a bit dim.
The Grand Promenade is the main thoroughfare through the ship and is like a street lined with shops and cafe’s. It’s quite hard to imagine you are on a ship when you are there as it is more like a shopping mall. Above the Promenade is an atrium which stretches several decks. You can have a cabin with a window overlooking the Promenade but if you like to go to bed early I would not recommend it as the Promenade is often the venue for evening parades and parties some of which start after 10pm.
Here are two views of the Promenade, one taken on our first day by me and another taken by Naomi very early before anyone was about. They do change the lighting on the Promenade at different times. At night it is more blue. The small balconies are a good spot to watch the parades from.
The shop with the red awnings is the Cafe Promenade. It is open 24 hours a day and we sometimes went there in there for a snack. They had sandwiches, cakes, cookies and you could either make your own tea or coffee or for an extra charge have a cappacino or a latte or whatever you fancied. Cafe Promenade as also the place to buy Ben and Jerry’s ice cream which we were keen to try having heard so much about it. It was good ice cream but New Zealand ice cream is still our favourite. The cafe was often quite busy especially after a show but we could usually find a seat inside even when the tables outside were full.
The Crown & Kettle is supposed to be an English Style Pub and while it looks the part it was not really what we expected. We had hoped there would be food served there but it was just a bar and the folk singer that occupied it most nights kept us away. We had been hoping for darts and piano singalongs I suppose.
There are also shops on the Promenade. We liked the shop selling souvenirs and bought quite a lot of things in there both for ourselves and for gifts to take home. There was another store selling duty free alcohol although rules on board ship are strict about that. You can buy it but you can’t have it until you disembark I believe. There were also stores selling jewellery, handbags and watches. In fact the watch sale became a bit of a joke because they seemed to have a watch sale just about every day. The prices were not bad but neither of us needed a watch.
I had intended to go on to the dining room from here but after all that shopping I think we’ll take the elevator or the stairs up to our cabin on Deck 7 instead and leave the dining room for later.
Decks 6, through 10 are predominantly staterooms so we didn’t take pictures there. Deck 7 houses the Library and Card Room which we thought would be a quiet place to play Scrabble but it turned out to be quite busy. The ships four sets of Mah Jong were always in use. I had not realised that Mah Jong was such a noisy game.
Every couple of nights Jayson our cabin attendant would leave us a towel animal. We were not that good at guessing what they were but they were very good.
While we are here say hello to Naomi’s new teddy bear. She wasn’t going to buy any more bears she said but what is a bear collector to do ?
The next post in this series will be about our Indian Lunch and tour of the galley and you will meet our favourite waiters.
Explorer of the Seas is a very large ship and in this post I’d like to give you a tour of her.
Before we go though here are a few statistics.
- Class: Voyager
- Built: Finland
- Entered Service: October 2000
- Refurbished: March 2015
- Displacement: 137, 308 tons
- Passenger Capacity: 3,840
- Crew: 1,185
You can read more here but I think these are pre-refurbishment figures and I think extra staterooms have been added since then.
Naomi and I did not go to every place on the ship, we missed the fitness centre and beauty salon due to lack of interest and the medical centre as fortunately we didn’t need it but we covered most of the other areas between us. Naomi has given me permission to use some of her photos which I thank her for. She took a great many in the early mornings before many people were about and got some spots that I missed.
Let’s begin our tour on Deck 3. Deck 1 is predominantly crew areas and Deck 2 has mostly staterooms so we didn’t take any photos on either of those decks although we did embark and disembark from the ship from them once or twice.
On Deck 3 you will find Studio B which is houses the ice skating rink and I believe is also used as a disco for young people (presumably without the ice). Outside is the Photo Centre where you can book a photographer for formal photos, buy things like batteries and camera accessories and view and order the photographs that the ship’s photographers are forever taking of guests when the join or leave the ship, go to dinner or just happen to catch their eyes. Ships photographers are like paparazzi but with better manners.
Also on Deck 3 is the lowest level of the Sapphire Restaurant and the lower level of the two level Palace Theatre. Deck 3 is a trickier one to navigate than some of the other decks as the fore and aft sections are separated by the ice rink. You have to be careful to use the right stairs or lift for the place you want to go or you have to go up and across to reach it. This happened to me a couple of times and I was not the only one.
On Deck 4 forward you will find the upper floor of the Palace Theatre. This deck has a lot of public rooms so you can walk through the Schooner Bar to Casino Royale, out the other side to The Tavern and past Giovanni’s Table and the Art Gallery to the middle level of the Sapphire Restaurant. There are stairs fore and aft and several sets of elevators. Occasionally when a show lets out or in port when a lot of people are coming and going these can get busy and if you are only going a few floors walking is probably quicker.
Deck 4 also has some outdoor areas where you can sit on a deck chair and relax or if you are not the relaxing type, play shuffleboard. Deck 4 is also one of the few areas open to smokers so it is usually popular.
Staying outside we can go forward and climb a short flight of steps to reach Deck 5. It can be windy out here but on a calm day it’s lovely and a great place to watch the ship arriving into port from.
Are you tired yet? There is still a long way to go so we’ll just have a quick peek into the Star Lounge which is where you access the open deck from and rest our feet before tackling the Promenade. In the next post we’ll take a walk along the Promenade, take another look at the Sapphire Restaurant and head up to our cabin on “LuckyDeck 7” to have a look at some towel animals.
Arriving in Sydney for the beginning of our cruise was an exciting moment after so much planning. We decided to fly up the day beforehand so on the day we were due to depart we had time to go out on Sydney Harbour on a ferry to take pictures of our ship which had arrived earlier that morning. We walked up to Circular Quay from our hotel and there she was waiting for us. Both of us took a lot of pictures as we passed by on the short trip to Milson’s Point.
Boarding was from 11am onwards and resisting my usual impulse to be there half an hour before that our plan was to go onboard after lunch which would, we hoped, avoid having to stand in the hot sun in a queue waiting our turn. As it happened when we arrived at around 2:30 pm there was no queue to speak of and the process was very smooth and well organised.
After dropping our bags we were directed through the various stages of embarkation, showing our passports and filling out forms. Then finally we were on board and being welcomed to the ship and forced to pose for the first of many photos by the ships photographer. My sister usually dislikes having her picture taken so we spent a lot of time trying to avoid these “Huggy, Huggy” moments for the rest of the trip
As we had boarded later in the day our cabin was ready. We had chosen an Oceanview cabin in the forward part of the ship. I was slightly dismayed to see we had been given a king size bed instead of two singles but a word to someone in Guest Relations solved the problem and we had our twin beds within a couple of hours of asking. I wish it had been that easy at the hotel we stayed in while we were in Sydney but that’s another story. It was a roomy cabin with a porthole overlooking an open area. There was plenty of cupboards and drawers for our stuff, a sofa, vanity unit/desk with power points so we could charge up our gadgets and a good-sized bathroom.
Of course we wanted to start exploring right away so we didn’t stay in our cabin for long. We washed, changed our clothes and headed out to have a look at the Promenade which acts at the ships main thoroughfare. From there we went down to the Schooner Bar for a celebration drink.
Before we sailed there was a compulsory ships muster where all passengers were asked to assemble at their assigned stations. Unlike the drills we remembered from when we were young we did not have to put our life jackets on which is good because some people never read the instructions and 4,000 plus people wandering around with inflated life jackets on would have caused complete chaos. Instead we were given a demonstration much the same as the ones given on aircraft. Muster is also the way that the crew can check that everyone is on board as your name is checked off a clip board as you enter your area. We expected to be mustered on deck but our station turned out to be in the Star Lounge on Deck 4. I guess on a mega ship it would not be very practical to have everyone outside, they simply would not fit.
Once everyone was accounted for the ship could prepare to sail. We had a bite to eat in the Windjammer Marketplace, the buffet restaurant, and made sure we were outside for departure time. The Windjammer is up on Deck 11 and has great views. I’ll talk more about it in the next post when you get to tour the ship with us.
I won’t write a lot about how it felt to sail through Sydney Harbour and out of The Heads. The pictures will tell the story. We were excited to pass “Celebrity Solstice” on our way, one of several other cruise ships we encountered which I’ll show you in another post.
After that we went to the Palace Theatre to watch “Casablanca”. Later in the evening we watched the “Sail Away Parade” held on the Promenade which was very loud and colourful and had some supper at the cafe. We went to bed knowing we had two whole days at sea before we would reach New Zealand.