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Miami round trip-Nov 3 to 17-Personal thoughts etc


kool kruiser
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I always have great admiration for those who are able to post live blogs and still have a great cruise. I find this too daunting and I fear being thrown overboard by my DW if I spend yet more time on an electronic device😀. So, I have safely returned home, caught up with life's bits and pieces and thus feel ready to pen a few thoughts.

Introduction

We have been cruising for over 30 years. We started when our kids were very young on UK line P&O, in it's time the first UK really family friendly line. We moved on to Princess, who we used for many years, attaining their highest loyalty status. In recent years, we discovered (Old) Crystal and had a number of fantastic cruises there. We return to (New) Crystal next July. Having fallen in love with the small ship experience, when that line went under, we enjoyed a few cruises on Azamara and may well return in 2025, as they have a particular itinerary not replicated elsewhere. Along the way, we have also sampled Silversea, Celebrity and NCL.

These thoughts will be entirely personal and I imagine that others who have experienced Explora may have differing views. However, we are pure unadulterated paying guests, with no axe to grind. I am also definitely not an influencer, which extends to when I am at home !! We do not consider ourselves to be particularly affluent and fell we are truly fortunate to be able to holiday so wonderfully on small ships in the mid-luxury and luxury cruise sectors.

Spoiler alert-Conclusion !!

Rather than leaving you in suspense for a number of days, I thought I would sum up here. So, if you won't to know at this time, please skip this section now...

We had a terrific time on board. Being such a new line and ship, we had realistic expectations and they were most definitely surpassed. Would we return ? Most definitely, if the current promotional pricing levels became available and subject to how the line evolves over time. For now, let's just say that overall we had a great time onboard.

What I really dislike about Explora

Easy peasy, it's the pretentious, silly and utterly pointless ''Explora speak''. When I came home, if I had responded to friends who asked about my holiday by saying I had been ''on a journey'', they had probably thought I was referring to getting to the airport !! If I had subsequently said that each evening I had an experience in the cabaret lounge, I dread to think what they would have thought !! During our cruise, I did not find anybody who liked this nonsense, other than one particularly fawning TA, who spent her time at a Q and A with the captain as a job interview with Explora's marketing department. At that session, I even raised a smile from everyone else when I said that I thought a ''luminary'' was more like a light fitting, rather than a guest speaker, etc. The explanation offered for this new language was that it differentiated Explora from it's competition. My view is that this is totally unnecessary as the cruiseline speaks for itself, without this piffle. So, let's start a ''we hate Explora speak club''. I am happy to be the founder member. So, for these musings, I will be using traditional cruise speak. For example, crew not hosts, etc etc.

Well, that's off my chest now, more to come soon...

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I can live with crew as hosts but the rest I 100% agree it’s marketing piffle no guest onboard understands. We have had the opportunity to chat with travel agents onboard since you left. Their honest mark, from the sensible ones we talked to was 6/10 - shows potential but work to do. 
The entertainment is woeful- last nights farewell show wasn’t about the guests it was again the entertainment team fawning over each other re two who were leaving. As DH said speeches that would be fine below stairs. We will have a new entertainment manager this cruise. Let’s see if he/she is better. 
But yes #noexploraspeak. Absolutely 

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4 hours ago, uktog said:

I can live with crew as hosts but the rest I 100% agree it’s marketing piffle no guest onboard understands. We have had the opportunity to chat with travel agents onboard since you left. Their honest mark, from the sensible ones we talked to was 6/10 - shows potential but work to do. 
The entertainment is woeful- last nights farewell show wasn’t about the guests it was again the entertainment team fawning over each other re two who were leaving. As DH said speeches that would be fine below stairs. We will have a new entertainment manager this cruise. Let’s see if he/she is better. 
But yes #noexploraspeak. Absolutely 

Ok you're not selling it to me with the poor entertainment and the sauce overload food.

It just might suit some.

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Entertainment they’re fixing sauce we disagree on. I’m not someone who posts to sell a line. I’m honest and highlight what working - the food, service and rooms and what’s not yet working - the entertainment. With the personnel change today the entertainment may be different this cruise 

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2 hours ago, uktog said:

Entertainment they’re fixing sauce we disagree on. I’m not someone who posts to sell a line. I’m honest and highlight what working - the food, service and rooms and what’s not yet working - the entertainment. With the personnel change today the entertainment may be different this cruise 

It really can’t be that quick.  It may take awhile for even a seasoned Producer to rework the venue schedules, entertainer bookings (sorry, I might use ‘host’, but not ‘artiste’) and administrative issues like promotional blurbs.  😀

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8 hours ago, kelleherdl said:

It really can’t be that quick.  It may take awhile for even a seasoned Producer to rework the venue schedules, entertainer bookings (sorry, I might use ‘host’, but not ‘artiste’) and administrative issues like promotional blurbs.  😀

I can already see a difference- blurbs are more extensive this cruise, artistes have been moved around and for those who wanted entertainment mid evening there’s an offering now at 1930. I agree it doesn’t change the issues with the shows and acts but it’s a start 

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OK, will certainly cover our entertainment experience later but for now (absolutely no explora speak at all from me 😀)...

Embarkation etc

Lovely warm welcomes from all involved in the process. We found the initial stages of the process worked well, until we were placed in the final holding area prior to boarding. Asked to sit but no organisation thereafter. We unilaterally decided to join the line to board when it became shorter (naughty I know !) and were soon on-board. Within seconds we were greeted warmly by a crew member with an amazing smile and abundant drinks tray. Couldn't resist helping ourselves to our first (of many) glasses of Moet. Terrific ! We were offered the facility to leave our carry-ons for delivery to our suite but declined. We were then invited to go to lunch in the buffet and enjoyed a great first meal. More about the food in a later instalment.

The muster drill took place in the rather outdated method of all turning up to our muster stations at a specific time and being shown how to put on a lifejacket, etc, etc. Did not take long at all.

We loved...the fabulous welcome onboard, the life jackets being held at the muster stations and not the cabins, the well-organised initial check-in protocols.

Room for improvement... after formalities board by group numbers, not a disorganised mess. Modernise the safety briefing process, as other lines have done..

 

Our fellow passengers

Our cruise comprised two 7 day cruises, back to back. We were broadly at about 50% capacity or thereabouts. We had some influencers on board, particularly on the first leg and TAs on both, although they included some hosting group sailings. We did not notice any airs of entitlement, special onboard treatment etc.  Of the other paying passengers, it seemed there was a higher proportion of non-UK Europeans than we have previously experienced on similar cruises. It was also apparent that there were many Yacht Club devotees who were ''sold'' the cruise thinking the whole ship would be an extension of the YC. I am unsure as to how they found the distinctly different style but I did hear some grumblings. We also noticed a distinctly younger age demographic and vibe, with far fewer mobility aids in use.Or maybe we are just getting older...We also chatted to other people loyal to other luxury lines who were trying this one out as a sampler. Inevitably perhaps, we always heard them making comparisons, which I will studiously seek to avoid.

Constant grumbles, particularly from our US friends, included the use of a 24 hour clock for timings, the onboard currency being the euro and temperatures being referenced in celsius, notwithstanding that we also noticed them in fahrenheit as well. Unsurprisingly, no great deal for us.

 

More soon...

Edited by kool kruiser
typos
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On 11/27/2023 at 9:39 AM, kool kruiser said:

I always have great admiration for those who are able to post live blogs and still have a great cruise. I find this too daunting and I fear being thrown overboard by my DW if I spend yet more time on an electronic device😀. So, I have safely returned home, caught up with life's bits and pieces and thus feel ready to pen a few thoughts.

Introduction

We have been cruising for over 30 years. We started when our kids were very young on UK line P&O, in it's time the first UK really family friendly line. We moved on to Princess, who we used for many years, attaining their highest loyalty status. In recent years, we discovered (Old) Crystal and had a number of fantastic cruises there. We return to (New) Crystal next July. Having fallen in love with the small ship experience, when that line went under, we enjoyed a few cruises on Azamara and may well return in 2025, as they have a particular itinerary not replicated elsewhere. Along the way, we have also sampled Silversea, Celebrity and NCL.

These thoughts will be entirely personal and I imagine that others who have experienced Explora may have differing views. However, we are pure unadulterated paying guests, with no axe to grind. I am also definitely not an influencer, which extends to when I am at home !! We do not consider ourselves to be particularly affluent and fell we are truly fortunate to be able to holiday so wonderfully on small ships in the mid-luxury and luxury cruise sectors.

Spoiler alert-Conclusion !!

Rather than leaving you in suspense for a number of days, I thought I would sum up here. So, if you won't to know at this time, please skip this section now...

We had a terrific time on board. Being such a new line and ship, we had realistic expectations and they were most definitely surpassed. Would we return ? Most definitely, if the current promotional pricing levels became available and subject to how the line evolves over time. For now, let's just say that overall we had a great time onboard.

What I really dislike about Explora

Easy peasy, it's the pretentious, silly and utterly pointless ''Explora speak''. When I came home, if I had responded to friends who asked about my holiday by saying I had been ''on a journey'', they had probably thought I was referring to getting to the airport !! If I had subsequently said that each evening I had an experience in the cabaret lounge, I dread to think what they would have thought !! During our cruise, I did not find anybody who liked this nonsense, other than one particularly fawning TA, who spent her time at a Q and A with the captain as a job interview with Explora's marketing department. At that session, I even raised a smile from everyone else when I said that I thought a ''luminary'' was more like a light fitting, rather than a guest speaker, etc. The explanation offered for this new language was that it differentiated Explora from it's competition. My view is that this is totally unnecessary as the cruiseline speaks for itself, without this piffle. So, let's start a ''we hate Explora speak club''. I am happy to be the founder member. So, for these musings, I will be using traditional cruise speak. For example, crew not hosts, etc etc.

Well, that's off my chest now, more to come soon...

When we were on EJ, back in Oct, DW suggested (to one of the "suits" from Geneva) that they refer to the "Conservatory" as the "Aquatic Immersion Experience."  The "suit" liked the suggestion and said he would pass it along.  I do not think he even realized we were teasing...which is frightening.

 

Hank

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On we go...with no explora speak, of course !!

The ship

Wow, wow and wow !!

For us, the ship certainly lived up to the rave reviews given by ''real'' passengers on previous cruises. As the ship was only about three months old, we had expected to see a lot of snagging taking place, which would have been quite understandable. Aside from the Helios pool, which has an inherent design flaw, we saw none whatsoever, although I gather that some matters may be in progress currently. No idea what they may be,

Reference has been made to the signage around the ship. We found this to be perfectly clear and rather classy. Perhaps the guest relation desks could have some signage, ditto the tour excursion guys and the dining reservation desk. No great shakes as a query to a crew member made them easy to find. We thought the design throughout was magnificent, the decor and furnishings being absolutely stunning throughout. The ship's layout is quite unusual and is definitely a departure from the traditional layout. The lifts are very quick and very spacious.

We loved... the sheer class !

Room for improvement...The three taps in the loos are counter-intuitive and should read, from left to right, soap, water,dryer. Currently they are back to front. Whilst speaking of loos, the operation of the single cubicles on deck is SO difficult to comprehend and some plain english guidance would be useful. As they are prone to malfunction, a phone inside would be helpful to summon help. The crew are aware of this and, when I explained why I was loitering outside when my wife was occupying, they quickly offered to stand outside on guard duty so that I could go myself. Impressive as ever. Finally, the discarded towels should be emptied more frequently, as they were often overflowing in the bin.

Our cabin

For us, we only need the cabin to sleep, wash, etc change and relax on the balcony. We never dine in our cabin or use room service if we are in good health. Thus, we cannot comment on these aspects, although we thought the room service options seemed very comprehensive and there was also the usual breakfast order card to hang outside the door. We stayed in an entry level OT1 which we found brilliant. The cabin creaked a bit when the seas were less than smooth but we managed without too much difficulty. At this stage, a shout out to our terrific cabin attendant Roy is called for, so kind, helpful, friendly and efficient. We truly hope that he gets promoted in the fullness of time.

Our cabin was above the Crema cafe outside smoking area, although we were not bothered by any smells during our particular cruise.

We loved...the spacious balcony and lovely furnishings. The super-sized shower. The terrific light dimming system. The large, easy to operate safe with it's horizontal positioning in a drawer for ease of access.The provision of a kettle, as well as coffee maker, with ample supplies. The recessed storage of cutlery, ice bucket tongs, cups and saucers, etc, thus avoiding them rattling...great design. The night lights and two usb ports and charging pad on both sides of the bed. The large TV.

Room for improvement

A further night light is needed in the dressing area outside the bathroom. Please put a clothesline in the shower. The usual information guide was notably absent and would be useful...this could include telephone information, a ship plan, useful ship information etc...you know the score !! The chair for the dressing table is too low in relation to the height of the table.

 

That's it for this instalment.

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Just now, joseph123 said:

Aside from the Helios pool, which has an inherent design flaw,

Sorry for the double post...

Just wanted to pull this sentence and ask as to why you feel the Helios pool has a design flaw? I am curious since this has been designated the adult pool area over the three other pools. If there are children on board they tend to be in the pools quite often, so I do plan to spend time at the Helios pool if needed for the serenity. I would think they would have dedicated one of the aft pools for adults as many of the other lines that allow children such as HAL do.

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29 minutes ago, joseph123 said:

Sorry for the double post...

Just wanted to pull this sentence and ask as to why you feel the Helios pool has a design flaw? I am curious since this has been designated the adult pool area over the three other pools. If there are children on board they tend to be in the pools quite often, so I do plan to spend time at the Helios pool if needed for the serenity. I would think they would have dedicated one of the aft pools for adults as many of the other lines that allow children such as HAL do.

It’s been confirmed by the ship management it’s a design flaw. The pool is raised up unlike the other two. Unfortunately the designers did not account for the motion of the ocean. Whenever the ship rocks, the pool empties onto the deck (and guests) below. They’re looking at glass enclosures or equivalent but no timeline for installation. 
Last cruise 22 children only saw a couple in the main pool occasionally. So absolutely no issue enjoying serenity even with one pool down 

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Very interesting. Hopefully they will correct on this ship and the Explora II. Good to know about the children. Don't get me wrong, I do love kids but on vacation I like rest and relaxation. On the last HAL cruise I was on there were hardly any children on board but they monopolized the pool as most kids would. I will be interested in hearing reports on those sailing in warm climates when the ship is at full capacity. There does not seem to be enough loungers around the main pool where many might want to be, but luckily there are all the other options. The aft pools look amazing as does the entire ship. Stunning decor!

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7 hours ago, joseph123 said:

Very interesting. Hopefully they will correct on this ship and the Explora II. Good to know about the children. Don't get me wrong, I do love kids but on vacation I like rest and relaxation. On the last HAL cruise I was on there were hardly any children on board but they monopolized the pool as most kids would. I will be interested in hearing reports on those sailing in warm climates when the ship is at full capacity. There does not seem to be enough loungers around the main pool where many might want to be, but luckily there are all the other options. The aft pools look amazing as does the entire ship. Stunning decor!

The ships are not sailing at full capacity yet so hard to tell. On the last two cruises it’s been the case that very few people lie around the main pool. Everyone spreads all around the pools, by hot tubs, in the shade, by the bars and on their balconies. They are working on a solution for the Helios Pool now and it may open today as we are docked in port. 

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More musings...

App and Daily Programme

We could not use the app pre-cruise for check in due to a mismatch between our forenames used for the booking and those in our passports. However, it was fully operational onboard. We received the printed daily programme in the customary manner each preceding evening. Incidentally, the wifi throughout the ship was absolutely fantastic.

We loved..the fuller details of that day's activities and those for the following day in the app. Ditto the tour excursion details.

Room for improvement...The restaurant menus in the app do not mirror those in the actual restaurants and do not seem to pick up any menu changes.The daily programme has too few details of each activity, although I understand this is currently being addressed. The printed programme is on very poor quality paper. There is very little information on the ports of call, just a very brief blurb and the port agent details.

 

Gym and Spa

We do not use the spa so unfortunately  cannot comment. The gym has great Technogym equipment and a small fitness studio.

We loved...the peloton-style spin bikes, with some pre-loaded programs. The range of equipment. The provision of a ''wellness'' instructor eg yoga, meditation,pilates,etc.

Room for improvement...an enhanced fitness program, currently limited and repetitive. Spin bikes on the outside deck seemed to be purely for aesthetic reasons. Who would use them in hot or adverse weather conditions ?

 

Swimming pools

We only used the conservatory and infinity (Astern?) pools so cannot comment on the others. Will be interesting to see how they cope with higher passenger loadings.

We loved...the large conservatory pool. Each pool having its own dedicated bar. The fab unique jacuzzis. The beautiful photogenic infinity pool. The pool and general deck furniture with those double loungers, no upcharge no reservation cabanas, etc.

Room for improvement...unsure of the solution but the conservatory area has a  quite oppressive atmosphere, either with the roof open or closed. The conservatory big screen was only utilised one evening for a ''silent'' film, whatever that means and for trailing that day's main lounge show, although the poorly received marketing stuff has been discontinued.

 

That's all for now. Due to other commitments next instalment in a few days time.

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On 11/27/2023 at 2:21 PM, uktog said:

Entertainment they’re fixing sauce we disagree on. I’m not someone who posts to sell a line. I’m honest and highlight what working - the food, service and rooms and what’s not yet working - the entertainment. With the personnel change today the entertainment may be different this cruise 

Loved the food loved the sauce

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Back after a rather hectic few days, so onwards and upwards...

Enrichment and Entertainment

This is my purely personal take on the story thus far. When Explora was launched, the corporates had a very clear vision as to what the line should be offering, to enhance their image of differentiation from other lines. They fully expected, as with silly Exploraspeak, for everyone to buy in to their ideas. What perhaps they did not factor in sufficiently was that the vast majority of passengers would not be first timers but rather regular cruise folk, either from other luxury or mid-luxury lines or ship within a ship offerings. The passengers clearly felt that this aspect of the Explora product was unacceptably poor. I was able to chat freely with the CD Tanya, who I personally found to be warm, lovely, very approachable and willing to listen. I have no doubt that the failings have been fully recognised and that we can expect a continued evolution until the offering meets passenger expectations. We noted changes, all for the better, happening during our 14 night stay and these continue to take place, judging from current postings from those onboard. 

We came with very low expectations in this area but we enjoyed things much more than envisaged. Some new ideas worked better than others, of course. However, what is important is to feedback ideas so that senior management can (and I have no doubt that they WILL) listen and continue development in this area. I will therefore refrain from making too many comments on the offerings provided for us, as they will clearly be different to yours. I feel it is unfair to evaluate too closely whilst we are in such a developmental phase.

What I will say that each venue's acoustics were excellent, we loved the main cabaret lounge and the observation lounge, both magnificent and beautiful settings. The Billy Joel tribute show is an obvious winner and the guest cabaret artists were very well-received. We loved Tanya's 'live' name that tunes and the terrific cocktail pianist Nataliia. The house band were really good and we thought the resident singers fine, although I acknowledge that others do not share these views. Tanya's solo show was tip top as well, although, as a CD, her ''fizziness'' could perhaps be toned down a tad. 

One of the true delights in cruising is being able to engage with those providing our enrichment and entertainment and we found all those to whom we spoke to be truly delightful and engaging.

I know, a slightly different diatribe today but I hope you will understand. 

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You may not be aware Tanya resigned and immediately left in Barbados as she wanted to be a performer not a manager and this was not the role - her job title was Entertainment Manager. She didn’t do any shows on our cruise but was excessively fizzy - good description 

Her replacement Monique is more reserved and seems to have a better grasp on the detail so for example the advertising display boards are showing the right events and times. 

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23 minutes ago, uktog said:

 Her replacement Monique is more reserved and seems to have a better grasp on the detail so for example the advertising display boards are showing the right events and times. 


That role seems so confused as to its purpose - is it an active entertainer as Tanya was or more of a cruise director style as Monique is as I don’t think she sings? (I can’t recall the Explora speak for what they call that role) 

 

They definitely need someone to undertake the Cruise Director type duties of the guest relations and managing the entertainment and activities and covering off essentials such as safety procedures 

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19 minutes ago, Stickman1990 said:


That role seems so confused as to its purpose - is it an active entertainer as Tanya was or more of a cruise director style as Monique is as I don’t think she sings? (I can’t recall the Explora speak for what they call that role) 

 

They definitely need someone to undertake the Cruise Director type duties of the guest relations and managing the entertainment and activities and covering off essentials such as safety procedures 

It’s a management role not entertainer. I thought the use of the word manager made that fairly clear but maybe the job description did not. It certainly needed more management as some of the entertainers were just turning up when they fancied and not performing for their advertised slots 

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16 minutes ago, uktog said:

It’s a management role not entertainer. I thought the use of the word manager made that fairly clear but maybe the job description did not. It certainly needed more management as some of the entertainers were just turning up when they fancied and not performing for their advertised slots 


Certainly wouldn’t be the first time a “Manager” didn’t manage 

 

I guess that role reports to the General Manager? If so it’s something they need to be addressing. Have you talked to them?

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6 minutes ago, Stickman1990 said:


Certainly wouldn’t be the first time a “Manager” didn’t manage 

 

I guess that role reports to the General Manager? If so it’s something they need to be addressing. Have you talked to them?

They are well aware of the entertainment issues 

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1 minute ago, uktog said:

They are well aware of the entertainment issues 


Are there still guest entertainers who can do feature shows scheduled - what standard are they at? When we were on they were quite good and in fact we had Brett Cave appear on regent Explorer and month or so after we saw him on Explora

 

It seems the issue is getting some good and reliable lead singers who stick around and working out just what the Entertainment Managers role and duties are - that’s part of the General Managers job

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54 minutes ago, Stickman1990 said:


Are there still guest entertainers who can do feature shows scheduled - what standard are they at? When we were on they were quite good and in fact we had Brett Cave appear on regent Explorer and month or so after we saw him on Explora

 

It seems the issue is getting some good and reliable lead singers who stick around and working out just what the Entertainment Managers role and duties are - that’s part of the General Managers job

We’ve had three guest entertainers in 19 days. All singers or instrumentalists or both. They were fine. All the remaining 16 nights involved the two resident singers who in my view are probably fine working as part of a four part group but haven’t developed the skills or stage presence to hold down an act - eg always using iPads onstage to remind them of words and trying to read their links between songs and often fluffing them. 
 

It needs a change in direction on entertainment and the general manager is well aware of that. However head office still controls what the entertainment is and who provides it. A lot of influential travel purchasers were onboard last cruise and they gave very critical but constructive feedback that will support the arguments for change. 

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