Cruise editor Brian Major sampled a two-day cruise to nowhere
aboard the largest cruise ship in the world, Royal Caribbean
International's Explorer of the Seas. His report follows:
Size matters. After only two days aboard Royal Caribbean's
newest ship, the 138,000-ton Explorer of the Seas, the significance
of scale is quite apparent.
Explorer's size makes the ship a true seagoing resort, allowing
for such a broad array of activities and facilities that passengers
will have to remind themselves that they're actually at sea.
My October cruise aboard Explorer was one of several two-day
sailings to the ever-popular destination of nowhere (more
specifically, 50 nautical miles off the coast of Long Island, N.Y.)
and did not include any port calls.
That was probably a good thing because there was more than
enough going on aboard Explorer, and I wasn't sure two days would
allow me to experience all (or most) of this ship's impressive
array of amenities and facilities.
Not to worry -- Explorer proved to be such an attractive and
interesting ship that it was hard to sit still for any decent
amount of time. The vessel really did offer something for
In fact, Explorer's incredible diversity makes this ship (along
with sister vessel Voyager of the Seas, introduced last year) a
rarity in the cruise industry. Voyager and Explorer are vessels
that will chart the course for future cruise-ship design.
No doubt you've heard the reports of Explorer's rock-climbing
wall, ice-skating rink and interior staterooms that feature views
of the ship's dining, shopping and entertainment boulevard.
I can faithfully report that all of these facilities do exist as
described and, furthermore, they attracted the full attention of
the passenger contingent.
Indeed, the lines were at times up to 20 people long for rock
climbing, which took place on a specially designed wall attached to
the back of the ship's smokestack.
As it was, our voyage only included one day at sea, but the
rock-climbing activities continued right through sundown.
Explorer's ice-skating rink seemed smaller than I (and others I
spoke with) initially envisioned.
In fact, the relatively small rink added an extra element of
unpredictability to one evening's entertainment.
It often appeared as if the show's skaters were about to vault
beyond the rink's boundaries.
But the show went off without incident, and, considering that we
were aboard a cruise ship, the rink still weighed in as very
The same can be said of the entertainment boulevard, which was
lined with a coffee shop; a sports bar; ice cream stands; duty-free
stores and boutiques; a game room featuring video games from the
early 1980s (just the ticket for the thirtysomething crowd), and
props, like a circa 1920s motorcycle with sidecar.
The boulevard resembled a small corridor at some upscale mall or
shopping-intensive airport and, based on our two-day experience,
will be very popular with passengers.
Speaking of popular, Explorer guests should try to sample the
Johnny Rockets restaurant as soon as possible after boarding
because any significant delay will result in a long wait on a line
that often stretches well beyond the front door.
The restaurant seated only about 100, so it was difficult to
determine if it was extremely popular or simply not large
The staff was fun-loving and, like any respectable diner crew,
offered a dance routine whenever their favorite songs
(specifically, "YMCA" and "Respect") were played on the
The cuisine was typical diner fare, but the milk shakes were
worth the wait.
Explorer also has two scientific facilities: atmospheric and
oceanographic laboratories created in partnership with the
University of Miami's Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric
The atmospheric lab was situated in a small room near the ship's
bow mast and was staffed by a friendly science guy who gave a good
(if lengthy) explanation of the lab's functions.
The oceanographic lab was another story.
It's located on a lower deck and requires passengers to walk
through what are clearly crew and staging areas.
Once in the lab, there wasn't much to see, as hands-on
experiments weren't yet set up when we arrived.
Royal Caribbean will have to settle some access issues if the
company is going to promote this area to passengers.
But there was very little to complain about on a ship with so
much to offer.
In addition to Explorer's impressive array of bars, lounges and
kids' facilities, there was a 15,000-square-foot spa and gym, a
full-sized basketball and volleyball court, a miniature golf course
and an in-line skating track.
OK, the skating track was a bit narrow, but again, this is a
Explorer also offers an Internet center, several cafes and
lounges, a large casino, two sports bars, a cigar bar, a jazz club
and a 24-hour ice cream and yogurt bar.
There's also the Chamber, a disco designed to resemble a Gothic
Because our cruise to nowhere offered no port calls, it was
impossible to determine the ship's methods for embarking and
disembarking passengers for sightseeing.
But with only two days aboard, that was a good thing.
Explorer is the type of cruise ship that will attract the
younger, resort-oriented passenger base that cruise lines are
always seeking, simply because you never feel as if you want to get