Explorer of the Seas

 

A Review

by Kris Krenz, MCC

Every time I arrive at the New York City passenger ship terminal I can't help but think of the Grand Ocean Liners that sailed in and out of this location, once known as "Luxury Liner Row." Events both grandiose and tragic took place here, and it was the stepping stone for exploring the world in such well known ships as the Queen Mary, Liberté, United States, Mauritania and many more. I've cruised many times from these piers and this nostalgic feeling has never left me. In fact, I think New York City is one of the most interesting ports in the world.

This warm October day proved to be no exception to the rule. Royal Caribbean International's (RCI's) newest ship, Explorer of the Seas, was making her debut. This new ship is the largest passenger cruise liner ever to sail into the city-making history-and it was exciting to be a part of it! As we approached the pier from the West Side Highway, there was no mistaking her as she was the first ship that you could see towering high above the piers.

I was very excited-this was to be my first cruise experience on a "Voyager" class ship, which includes the largest passenger ships to date. The Explorer of the Seas is the second of five ships being built in this class (the first was the Voyager of the Seas, which made her debut in November of 1999). The Explorer of the Seas is approximately 138,000 Gross Registered Tons-almost 30,000 tons more than the next largest class (Princess Cruises Grand Class Series). She is 1,020 feet long; 157.5 feet wide; towers over 200 feet above sea level; and can accommodate more than 5,020 guests and crew.

"Oh wow!," "Look at...!" and "Oh my god!" echoed throughout the bulkheads as everyone had their first glimpse of this engineering marvel while boarding the ship. We all looked like first time visitors to New York City, standing there with our mouths open and staring, awestruck by what was all around us.

 

 

 

 

 

The aft centrum (main atrium) you can see part of the 42-foot high sculpture "Canticle to a Blue Planet" by Jonathan and Evelyn Clowes.

- Photo by K. Krenz

The first thing on the agenda was to find our cabin which seemed to be a task, given the size of the ship, but crewmembers were available to point the way. Our cabin assignment was a standard oceanview stateroom, which is a spacious 180 square feet. The room includes two half moon panels of glass that form a large round window, a convertible twin to queen-size bed, loveseat, mini bar, interactive television, hair dryer, room safe, vanity, and closets. The bathroom is nicely appointed with a shower stall-its decorative tile boarder dresses up what normally is a very plain space. The showers are fitted with circular sliding doors rather than a curtain, which kept the bathroom floor dry.

Most of the staterooms are similar in design to ours. The interior rooms were a little bit smaller at 160 to 167 square feet, but still had similar features. A majority of the outside staterooms are considered superior ocean views with private verandas (Category DA and DB are173 square feet with a 47 square foot veranda and Category D1 through D9 are 188 square feet with a 50 square foot veranda.) In addition to these staterooms, suite accommodations are also available.

Once settled, our goal was to eat and then take a walk around the ship. The quest for food took my wife, Maureen, and I up to deck 11-the main pool area and the location of the "Windjammer" and "Island Grill," which make up the main casual dining area onboard. These restaurants give you a choice of a lavish buffet or freshly grilled entrees. Around the seating areas are ceiling to floor windows, which offer a spectacular panoramic view while you eat. Also found on this deck is the "Portofino" restaurant, which serves a Euro-Italian cuisine in a more intimate and elegant setting. Reservations and a $20 per person fee are required to dine in the "Portofino."

After satisfying ourselves with a wonderful buffet consisting of freshly carved roast beef, steamed vegetables, salads and wine, the next important stop was the casino. Why the casino? Even though it wasn't open yet (we were still in port), I felt a personal tie to the casino because some of the work done here originated from a family business.

 

 

A chorus girl greets you near the entrance of the Casino Royal

- Photo by K. Krenz

 

The "Casino Royal" onboard the Explorer of the Seas features a Las Vegas/Rock and Roll/Elvis Presley theme entitled "Viva Las Vegas." When you walk into the main entrance it is like strolling down the "Vegas" strip. On the walls are shadow boxes with reliefs of desert landscapes and "Vegas" signs, and recessed into the floor are a roulette wheel, cards, money, gold bars, chips and more. It was a strange illusion as you walked over this clear panel gazing on all of the riches below. Two lifelike chorus girls adorned with feathers greet you as you finally enter the floor of the casino. As you walk toward the main bar there is a life-sized statue of a young Elvis Presley standing on the replica of a giant jukebox complete with a giant phonograph, 45 rpm record and speakers. On the ceiling above Elvis is another 45 rpm record. All of these items came to life in my Uncle Vinnie's welding and fabricating shop in Middletown, Connecticut, and this is one of the reasons I felt a bond to this casino.

While attending college I spent my summer break working for my uncle, Vincent LaBella, at LABCO Welding, Inc. Not being a skilled craftsman, I did most of the general "grunt" work and drove the delivery truck. I learned to appreciate the intricacies of the work being done in his metal fabrication shop, which specializes in intricate work to large heavy-duty construction. He has made parts for oilrigs to the space shuttle. Because of a few of its specialized machines, LABCO's shop has recently started to be utilized by artists.

When Peter Zsiba and Maura Smolover from "Zsiba Smolover" of New Milford, CT were commissioned to do work for both the Voyager of the Seas and the Explorer of the Seas, they needed to work with a metal shop and called upon my uncle. Zsiba and Smolover are both artists with a forte in theatrical design. Now they are currently working on projects for the casino on the third "Voyager" class ship, the Adventure of the Seas (Spring 2002). Also they are doing work for both the Radiance of the Seas (Feb. 2001) and Brilliance of the Seas (June 2002).

The metalwork used requires the artist to create drafts of their work, which is scanned into a computer. Once the computer design is completed, the program is inserted and run on a metal laser cutting machine, which uses a light beam/laser to cut the metal cleanly and precisely. Most of this intricate metal work is hidden from view as the artwork comes alive with the final details. However, when you look closely at the headdress or the tail feathers of the chorus girls you can see this metal work. The metal feathers were cut out of non-corrosive stainless steel. Real feathers and fiber optics have been added and everything blends together. Also the cactus relief scenery in main entrance is another noticeable example of this metal work.

While writing this review I had the opportunity to talk to Maura Smolover who told me that the goal of the work for this casino project was to create an "onboard destination feature" meaning that you don't have to leave the ship to experience a new destination. For example when entering the casino through the main tunnel/entrance you experience the festive thrill of traveling through the desert and arriving to all the lights and sounds of a pre-modern Las Vegas. This was exactly what I had experienced!

Once the excitement of seeing the casino was over, I made my way foreword and found myself in a totally different environment-one of the trademark lounges found on all Royal Caribbean ships, the "Schooner Bar." This one was the largest I've seen, and its decor is completely nautical and elegantly done featuring the styling of old sailing vessels. It also doubles as piano bar and from here you can enter into the upper level of "The Chamber."

 

 

The upper entrance to The Chamber disco

- Photo by K Krenz

"The Chamber" is a disco that spans two decks. It has a gothic theme and is designed like an English Castle carved from stone. What particularly drew my attention were the sconces/torches that appeared to have real flames. Upon closer review I saw that flame was created by reflecting light onto a white material put in motion by a tiny fan. Both the light and fan are concealed inside the torch. The barstools and seating areas were all done up in steep arches that would adorn an old castle. "The Chamber" was really an attention getter, but I have to admit that this lounge would not have had so much impact if it was on a Carnival Cruise Ship. In the late evening, when the disco comes to life and all the high tech electronics are in action, you really get a better appreciation of this unusual lounge.

One deck up from these lounges is the heartbeat and the most unique feature of the "Voyager" class ships, the "Royal Promenade." On the Explorer of the Seas this is a centrally-located open arcade that stretches 500 feet and is 4 decks high. Its theme is the French Quarter of New Orleans. At each end of the "Royal Promenade" centrums rise 9 or more decks high. Each centrum includes suspended sculptures, and the one that grabbed my attention was the 42-foot high "Canticle to a Blue Planet" by Jonathan and Evelyn Clowes, located in the aft centrium (also considered the main atrium). When you board the Explorer of the Seas on Deck 5 this is the first thing that you see (hence all the ohhs and ahhhs). This abstract sculpture is made from metal tubing, mesh and wood veneer representing the interactions between life at sea and the heavens. This sculpture represents $500,000 of the $11 million in artwork found onboard.

The "Royal Promenade" reminds me of the "World Showcase" area at Disney's Epcot. Don't get me wrong, I mean this as a complement. From the tiles used in the street to the different styles of each storefront, the illusion is real-you are transported to a different place. The ceiling panels and lighting set the mood from dawn to daylight or dusk to evening. Another unusual feature of this ship is that 138 of the inside staterooms feature bay windows that overlook the "Royal Promenade."

The Royal Promenade -- In this photo you can see the inside cabins that feature bay windows

- Photo by K. Krenz

Shops, pubs and sidewalk cafés are found along the way, each with their own unique styling. The most notable are the "Weekend Warrior" sports bar and "Crown and Kettle" pub. I favored the pub as it looked just like an English pub-right down to the fireplace. Just outside of both of these bars is a stairwell that will take you down to the center of the "Casino Royal."

During the evening the center of the street was roped off and the "Royal Promenade" transformed into a festive party atmosphere. Here, dancers in costumes (some on stilts) paraded down the promenade to a sound and light spectacle. At the end of this show was a brief simulated fireworks show using mylar streamers.

As you walk aft down the "Royal Promenade" to the Atrium, as this area opens up and you will find the "Champagne Bar." In this nice seating area, live classical guitar music might be heard while relaxing with a glass of wine or champagne. The décor is complete with wooden champagne-bottle cutouts on the furniture and cylinders filled with water that come alive with millions of bubbles. Across the atrium from the "Champagne Bar" is the "Guest Relations" service area.

At both centrums are glass elevator banks that give the rider a very unique perspective of the ship. As you continue aft from the from the Guest Relations desk you will find the main entrance to the "Columbus" dining room. Now wait! This could also be the entrance to the "Da Gamma" or "Magellan." This is where I was both overwhelmed and confused. Onboard is one main restaurant that is three tiered, and each tier has it's own name. As a passenger you will be assigned to one of these three for early or late seating. The "De Gamma" (second level) and "Columbus" (third level) are balconies and overlook the "Magellan."

 

 

 

The three level dining room onboard the Explorer of the Seas.

- Photo by K. Krenz

From the "Magellan" dining room entrance you are awestruck by the immense size of this dining room-in fact, you probably will not find a restaurant similar to this on land. Tasteful gold columns span all three levels. A grand staircase opposite the main entrance splits to the left and right and zigzags up each level to join once again at the third level. On the second level between the right and left spans of the stairwell is a balcony that sports an orchestra pit and an elegant grand piano. Massive gold drapes that also span three levels help to seal the splendor and elegance of this room.

Also on the same level as the "Columbus" dining room and the "Royal Promenade," at the total opposite end of the ship, (foreword) is "Maharaja's," a nightclub designed in an Indian mosque motif. This is both one of the more luxurious lounges onboard and the largest nightclub, featuring live music nightly. Adjacent to "Maharaja's" is the " Connoisseur Club," a cigar bar with the same décor as "Maharaja's," but much more intimate. A stylish hallway between the two lounges is also decorated in the same theme.

Directly below "Maharaja's" is the five-story "Palace Theater," where all the feature shows are performed. This massive 1,350-seat theater is designed in the tradition of a late nineteenth-century, Viennese-like venue. Also, it's equipped with the most modern light and sound technology used in the theater industry.

The foreword stairwells feature artwork, photos and signed guitars from many popular musicians and celebrities. This is part of a $600,000 "ArtStars" celebrity exhibit. This exhibit features work from Tony Curtis, Anthony Quinn, Billy Dee Williams to name a few.

Since the Explorer will be cruising year round in the Caribbean, it will attract people seeking the sun, sea and fresh air. This is where I was a bit skeptical. As the industry keeps on building larger ships, I feel that the main focus of shipboard life has shifted toward the interior of the ship rather than the ocean. Isn't the reason people cruise in the first place, to be in touch with the ocean? As I watched the development of this class of ship I was very critical as how RCI chose to use this precious outside deck space. I felt that a full-size basketball court, miniature golf course, rock-climbing wall or in-line skating would take away too much. I was pleasantly surprised that the area by the pool has retained the traditional Royal Caribbean design from the Song of Norway through the "Sovereign" and some of the "Vision" classes. For those who are not familiar with this design, the lounging area circles the pool on two decks. The upper deck is a large sun deck overlooking either the pool or the ocean. I like the upper level because you can park your deck chair along the railing and watch the ocean go by while in a reclined position. On many other ships you may be staring at a bulkhead or lifeboat, so you might as well stay home and lounge in your own back yard! (Some cruise lines could learn a lesson here.) So, I do view the pool area as a plus. Also the pool and lounging area is separated from the sports area, which is located aft, behind the stack.

 

Topside looking aft showing the pool and Viking Crown Lounge

- Photo by K. Krenz

As you make your way back to the sports area, you will find what I think is a very positive facility for families. On deck 12 is "Club Ocean" and an area for youth. "Club Ocean" is a facility for younger children and provides separate rooms or areas for different age groups. It is not a small tucked away playroom and is a very complete facility with playrooms, comfortable living room area with a wide screen TV for movies, a small theater for live children's entertainment, and a computer center and a separate room just for Nintendo video games. Also located near here is a large coin operated games room, "Adventure beach" (a whimsical pool area with waterslide for children 12 and under), "Optix" the teen disco, and a genuine "Johnny Rockets." All types of non-alcoholic drinks are served in this area.

Royal Caribbean has seemed to go "overboard" catering to families with children of all ages. The Explorer of the Seas offers family suites with a veranda and standard rooms designed for larger families. Some even offer separate bathrooms and bedrooms for the kids, providing a little extra privacy for the parents. With this combination RCI has seems to have conquered the family market.

"Johnny Rockets," the hamburger chain restaurant with 140 locations worldwide, is an eye grabber and seems out of place, but I liked it! It looks as if someone took a 50's style prefabricated diner and placed it on deck 12, complete with the red vinyl booths, a dine at counter and vintage tabletop jukeboxes. This is the second in RCI's fleet.

One deck up is the "Explorer Dunes Golf", in-line skating track, basketball court and rock-climbing wall. The "Explorer Dunes Golf" is a very large miniature golf venue, not just a small putting green with a few obstacles. The full-size basketball court is also used for other activities. The rock-climbing wall is constructed on the aft side (backside) of the ship's stack. Though the wall blends in with the stack, the colorful handholds are what you notice. I assume that different skill level challenges are achieved by using a certain color handhold. In RCI's literature it states that the rock-climbing wall towers 200 feet above sea level.

 

 

The Rock Climbing Wall

 

 

The author gives a demonstration.

- Photo by M. Krenz

Near here, wrapped around the stack of the Explorer of the Seas is another of Royal Caribbean's trademarks, the "Viking Crown Lounge." This lounge has always been a favorite feature of mine. It was here that we chose to sit, and watch, as this massive vessel sailed out of the New York Harbor. This proved to be one of the most spectacular sail aways ever! The night was clear and the fire-red sunset reflected off the city. The most thrilling part was as we approached the Verrazano Narrows Bridge. I made my way outside to stand with a few other curious onlookers, and as we got closer it looked like we would never clear the bottom span of the bridge. The ship cleared it, of course, but with only a few feet to spare in my estimation. I watched as the exhaust from the stack was deflected by the bridge's span.

The "Viking Crown Lounge," the highest observation lounge, has been transformed over the years from a tiny bar and seating area to a nightclub with live entertainment. I personally look at this transition with mixed emotions, as this was always my favorite quiet getaway while on a Royal Caribbean ship. Here I feel like I'm on top of the world. It still has that feeling, but gone may be that quiet place to reflect on the events of the day while mellowing with a cocktail.

The "Viking Crown Lounge" on the Explorer of the Seas is broken up into active sections. "The Nineteenth Hole," located on the starboard side, is modeled after a private country club bar. TV monitors are recessed above the bar so you can view sporting events while having a drink after your round of golf. A perpetual motion sculpture/gizmo with golf balls racing around breaks the silence here. The main part the "Viking Crown Lounge," which becomes a jazz club, is called "Dizzy's," named after the late great jazz trumpet player Dizzy Gillespie. A life-size statue of him blowing his horn complete with his puffed-out cheeks and many pictures of Dizzy are on display. Located on the port side of the "Viking Crown Lounge" is "Cloud Nine and "Seven of Hearts," a seating and card playing area. While onboard I assumed that this was the highest public area on the ship-but I was wrong. One deck up is "Skylight Chapel," a wedding chapel that can accommodate up to 60 guests-and I missed it!

Unique features found on both the Explorer of the Seas and the Voyager of the Seas are the "Aquarium Bar," "Studio B" (ice skating rink) and a large conference center. The "Aquarium Bar" on deck 4 by the atrium houses a few spectacular ceiling to floor salt-water aquariums with live tropical reef fish. Seeing tanks of this size onboard a ship seems incomprehensible. Near the "Aquarium Bar," on both sides of the ship, is a hands-on museum/activity learning center. I took part in one experiment where I removed hydrogen from water by creating electricity, released the gas, and ignited it, which sent a ping pong ball through a crazy contraption. A continuously frozen manmade iceberg is also displayed, and of course I had to touch it to make sure it was real-as did everyone else that saw it. RCI has seemed to dedicate this ship to learning-it's the first cruise ship to be equipped with oceanographic and atmospheric laboratories, which will be staffed full time by research scientists.

"Studio B," the ice skating venue that spans two decks complete with a Zambonie to manicure the ice, can seat 700 guests. Feature ice shows are held here, it can be used for business trade shows, and cruise guests are also welcome to ice skate here.

While onboard, RCI had a tradeshow utilizing the conference center. The conference center seems to be very functional for any business wishing to hold a meeting or small convention. It is equipped with the many necessary technological features that businesses demand, such as laptop stations and hook-ups for teleconferencing and multi-media presentations.

 

 

The Connoisseur Club

- Photo by K. Krenz

Another notable feature onboard the Explorer of the Seas is the "Shipshape Fitness Center and Spa," a multi-level fitness center featuring the latest in gym equipment. Also available is a full-service spa and beauty salon. Who can't resist a seaweed body wrap?

The two-deck high library reminds me a little of the library onboard the QE2, and it's just like stepping into a small town library. The second level is equipped with an internet center so you can always stay connected with your friends and family back home.

I should make note of the hallways onboard-they are very wide and brightly lighted and are equal to the hallways found in most hotels. This feature and many more are what "floats" this "mega-boat." I took time out to enjoy the onboard amenities and mingle with some of the crewmembers who were extremely proud of their tastefully crafted ship. While on our short cruise, I felt no real motion while at sea. In fact, while in the interior areas of the ship, I would have thought that I was in a mall or hotel. I'm not sure if die-hard cruisers will accept this aspect of the ship, but a novice will never be able to make any comparisons and will accept this as "cruising."

By Kristopher Krenz, MCC

More Photos of the Explorer of the Seas (Click on the names below.)

Staterooms and Hallway

Alternative Dining

Club Ocean

Royal Promenade and Reef Tanks

Johnny Rockets

Sports Deck

Topside

Laser Cut Machine

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