Royal Caribbean Explorer
I might have originally put this under “you get what you pay for”, but on reflection it’s more complicated. My wife and I have sailed Princess four times and Regent Seven Seas Explorer most recently. That said, we left our last spoiled. A two week all inclusive on one of their newest boats can do that to someone. Yes... we paid for it. But in fairness it was our 25th wedding anniversary and THAT should date us for those younger readers whom may be checking my/our compass.
We found an amazing deal via email for a four day three night Seattle to Victoria B.C. on Royal Caribbean’s Explorer mid September (‘18). Basically $200 (x2). You can’t find a hotel in Seattle for two nights for that price. I got the ok from “management” and we booked a month before. Doing the usual specialty restaurant reservations and single excursion to Butchart Gardens. Really, how could it go wrong?.
Well, like it sometimes does in the Northwest (we live in Oregon), fall came in all at once. Our record number of ninety degree days dropped to our first rain filled fifty degree week. We took the train to Seattle the night before, and bought umbrellas the day of departure. Getting to the port (pier 91) was painless. Boarding was easy and we were very surprised that we could carry our luggage onboard ourselves. No matter the ship, I just LOVE boarding. Ships are just amazing and mysterious (initially) to me and always inspire a feeling of awe.
However once onboard Explorer, I felt a bit more of a feeling of “oh dear”. In a word, old. Though her last referb was 2015, she looks a bit tired. Faded pink pastels and tired carpets. We grabbed a late lunch up at the buffet and I must say - which using Princess as a comparison - was horrible. But again, for what I paid.. ok fine. I felt like I was at a cheap all you can eat American buffet: limp French fries, well done sausage size burgers, pasta pasta pasta and of course all the sweets you can stuff your plate with. For September, the fruit looked more like March - pale and flavorless. Like most chow wagons, the mood was “get and go people... get and go!”. I would be in trouble with “management” at this point if I didn’t mention the awful “stink” the linen napkins all seem to have (to be fair, I don’t smell my napkins much, but full disclosure at this point will make future sailing... um happier). There are “chow” lines on both sides of the dining area as you enter - but - the “different” food is all the way in the back. Go there first. Less crowded and an over all better mix of food. And expect some diversity.. imagine what appears to be a sweet little old lady (85ish?) turning and growling at you as she cuts in and grabs the last piece of ham. Back girl back!.
Inspired to look beyond, I decided to round up a couple drinks after lunch and before we sailed. The pool side bar (but not the recently rained on pool) was full. The hot tubs looked like large “tail gater cocktail cups – filled with drink package warriors loudly arguing about upcoming football games. I ponied up to an available spot and ordered two drinks of the day (no idea what they were, but knew they had vodka and allot more of other stuff – per the menu - aka weakcocktail. What came back was two three inch narrow clear plastic cups and a bill for $34. OMG!!!!!. “Where’s your gun?!”. $34 for a combined total of 6oz of liquid?! No, the only thing pointed at my face was a nice kids smile (from Uganda) and a very genuine “thank you sir”. I pointed my invisible gun to my own head and shot a “buyer beware” bullet into my brain. Remember, the server is only the messenger. This may also be another consequence of sailing all inclusive last time... but still, COME ON ROYAL CARIBBEAN.. REALLY??!!. Those that know need no further explanation of why some cruise lines do this.. it (and the casinos) feed the beast. But, you could buy - as was heavily pushed by the bar staff - a $200 drink package. Four days (which really is three since you arrive at 6am on the fourth) to drink as much as you can.. hmmm, maybe the food improves?.. Moving on.
The balcony room really wasn’t too bad. Dated yes (no USB ports and old cabinetry etc..) but not bad. Bed was stiff, but linens clean (no napkin stink per management.. sleep was allowed J.. The shower is more like a “beam me up Scotty” Star Trek transporter - but the water pressure and volume of nice hot water was amazing. Cabin steward was warm and attentive. Balcony on this class of ship is very old school. Alcove style with half steel wall with a small glass lip in front. If it weresunny (god forbid) we’d never feel it on our balcony until mid morning or afternoon depending on the position of the ship. Neither a positive or a negative, just an observation compared to other ships. Television had a few stations, but nothing to hang out for. Decent over all room storage. The mini fridge was barely below room temp and clearly was part of the original “mini bar” era it was built for. Two power outlets and a small vanity had barely enough room to charge our electronics and still have room for managements hair “tools”. A small hair dryer was provided as well as a small room safe.
Management & I like an early gym workout. Here we were not disappointed. Nice space, good equipment. We did not get to use the steam or sauna, but they looked great. Being such a short cruise no spa for “management” was attempted either.. but they looked ok. In an environment like this (unlike the slightly snootier class ships) we have no problem walking through the morning buffet in our workout clothes. In fact, at no time was “dress code” an issue. I would say as long as you had clothes on in the morning, the general meal areas were open to what ever you choose to wear. The specialty restaurants had some breakfast options that had a few more restrictions, but not many. No change here on food quality (general dining -= never did a specialty breakfast other than the kitchen tour brunch), but so be it. If we were bringing young kids along (as we did once on Princess) it would be just fine. We took the galley/brunch tour as well. Again, tour documents say closed toes shoes required, but upon arrival a few had flip flops and were told “no problem” (really!? Why print it?!). Here again, a tad disappointing. We’ve done one on every ship and while the actual galley tour was great, here the food was a total let down. Hard boiled eggs benedict and runny bland “something sauce”. The table was graced with nacho chips and guacamole (but no salsa), sushi (but no soy sauce or ginger/wasabi), charcuterie meats, cheese but just sliced bread, Oh well. Fun company at our table and champagne flowed freely (about $40 each I think).
Ok - the MAJOR bummer spoiler alert - the smoking sections are basically wide open and flow everywhere. Up on the pool deck it’s on one side, in the casino it’s on one side. Basically all the smoke wafts freely all over the place. HEY ROYAL CARIBBEAN!! STOP IT!!!. STOP THE POISON!. STOP THE STINK!. Put those that can’t quit in a boxed off area to stink peacefully and get cancer to themselves. Really, they don’t care where they smoke, just that they can. We air lovers however DO care that our air not give us cancer or stink. DO YOU HEAR ME?!. Go ahead smokers.. dig in if you must, but really you shouldn’t. This addiction affects all those around you as well... and second hand smoke is just not fair. And I guess in this case that’s notreally enough said.. but that’s for you all to realize and enough for me to have said. No No... move on smokers!.
We wish it were warm and dry enough for us to try out the many outdoor activities available on this ship. Flow rider surfing, wall climbing were out of our reach -because of weather-. But when the weather allowed we got in some putting on the golf greens and almost got some shuffle board in. Indoors the video arcade was great (had to pay :( ) but it was a nice option during the rain. The ping pong tables (three) were a great diversion. The casino has lots of options, but as I mentioned you’d better like the STINK and have a change of clothes available afterwards. By accident while waiting to get a table on our first night we stumbled into the ice rink and watched part of the show going on there. AMAZING!. Likewise after dinner that night we stood in the back and watched part of the comedy show in the main theater. But we’re not night folks anymore, so I’ll leave reviews of the night life to those that partook. We watched a great match of dodge ball and heard fun stories of the ping pong tourney. In these areas the ship crew were (and actually have been through out) GREAT!.
Asian theme restaurant Izumiwas ok. But ala-carte adds up quick. But over all nice food.
Did Chops steak houselast night on board. GREAT views and really decent food. Service was over the top wonderful. We never had time to try the burger place, though it seemed at least themed nicely. Never got to try the pub fair on deck 5 but heard ok things. On the whole, food for 3800 guests is surely a task. The overall size of your ship will obviously dictate the quality of your food - at least if this cruise showed us anything. And actually, this is one of their smaller ships. AND... AND please understand as a culinary school instructor I realize what makes food “good” is subjective to each individual. I preach only to those who find some common ground in what I’ve laid down here. Some of my best friends find equal happiness in a bag of Doritos and a cheap beer just as equally with a perfectly cooked steak. Neither is better than the other in their eyes. It often revolves around those they share the meal with. I get that, I truly do. And I also am very versed in the economics of large production meals. But the truly best apples are often highest up on the tree. Those that take the challenge to reach those deserve my finest critiques.
Little bits: coffee- free if you look for it (deck 5) behind the pay for espresso coffee shop - bring a large insulated cup. Coffee itself is really never been great on any cruise so far. For gods sake don’t pay for it - because they will let you. Water- bring your own bottles... fill at buffet restaurant or in gym. All tips are by default added to your bill...add or not accordingly but look at your tab!. Bring a usb hub or plug bar... there are two (maybe) plugs U.S. . There are a million YouTube videos giving suggestions on “what to bring on a cruise”... many have great ideas and therefore worth checking out. Bringing booze on the cruise.. hmmm, well we’ve done it in the past and I will say there is a comfort knowing you’re not paying $11 for a Dixie cup worth of watered down liquor. A two inch pour of wine for $14 leaves me grumpy. That said, ethically NO, don’t “rob” the cruise line of their margin. They make their money back (after all the other costs of running a ship) on booze and the casino. In most cases you’re allowed to bring one unopened bottle of wine on board. However, if you feel a tad righteous about being ripped off related to your ROI (return on investment) on adult beverages, than I say it’s probably worth the risk. But you must be sneaky and you don’t want to be obvious... just pretend you’re a teenager again and don’t want to get grounded. “ No car for a week!”.
The bottom line on a 4 day 3 night Royal Caribbean Explorer cruise from Seattle to Victoria B.C.: A long weekend in a hotel that moves to different locations and feeds you for (in our case) far cheaper than a two night stay in a hotel in Seattle without food or entertainment is by itself a reason to go for it. There is most likely no one reading this that is in a class of folks that wouldn’t consider it in the first place (those guys are over on the Regent or Silver Seas boards). There are issues to be sure, but overall our “long weekend” was great. In and out of Seattle was easy and worth an extra day on either side… so much to do. Would I want to be on this ship for a week or more, sadly probably no. However to be fair, we never got to experience her on a sunny fully functional cruise (meaning all the outdoor amenities were useable). Nor have we ever not been on a warm sunny cruise. If choosing Alaska or a cruise like this, look for the interior reviews. There ARE ships that do it right. There are obviously thousands more critiques on this ship out there. Please Please Please look at least a few more before making a decision one way or the other.
Getting off the ship was a piece of cake. As when we boarded, they allowed us to carry off our own luggage allowing for an immediate and crowd free departure, and almost no slowing or questions at customs. Probably because of it being Canada and such a short cruise. We found 13 Coins restaurant (newly built under a Embassy Suites next to the train station and stadium) was (is) open 24/7. GREAT FOOD !..GREAT PRICES!. Just say’n.
I love cruising. I take each new cruise (never have done the same ship or cruise twice) as an adventure and an investment. I use this venue as a way to express to myself what I think or thought of it as I went. I hope all that read along found it useful or at least.... Not Boring. Thanks.