Having enjoyed our previous transpacific cruise from Chili to Sydney onboard P&O Arcadia, we decided to book another one. This time we took Royal Caribbean’s Explorer of the Seas from Seattle to Sydney. A number of ships that cruise from Seattle or Vancouver throughout the summer move to Australia for the northern hemisphere’s winter, which is summer down under. Repositioning cruises are often available crossing the Pacific in the fall or spring as these ships move to their new summer routes, the Explorer among them. Arcadia, on the other hand, was one leg of a world cruise of which the full route started and ended in South Hampton, England circling the globe twice in a 4-month span.
Our route and ports were all different on this 22 night cruise from Seattle to Sydney. It had 7 port stops scheduled with 2 each in Hawaii, Fiji, and New Caledonia, plus one in Vanuatu. The last cruise had just 5 scheduled stops, which ended up as 4 when we missed Bora Bora due to stormy weather.
After a fairly smooth passage through the Strait of Juan de Fuca on the way from Seattle to the ocean, we had rough seas for most of the first couple full days of the voyage. With the weather outside windy and cold the outer decks mostly stayed closed. Barf bags set out at the elevators come in useful for some, but serve as a reminder that weather isn’t always conducive to smooth sailing for others. I felt a bit off one day, but reminded myself I’ve been in worse seas and never been seasick on a cruise ship before and got over it. I don’t know if queasiness is sometimes a mental thing for anyone else, but thinking about it affects me and is quite likely to make any sort of motion sickness worse. On a long voyage it’s likely to see a variety of weather. We have had ocean crossings with smooth sailings the whole way, but so far never one that had more than a few days of rough seas.
Cruise ships always have scheduled activities throughout the day, particularly on sea days, of which ocean crossings have lots of. There’s a variety of things to choose from. The usual offerings include trivia, lecturers, competitions, games, demonstrations, exercise classes, and sometimes special events or deck parties. Explorer also had lots of things people could do to entertain themselves. The ship has a rock climbing wall and a flow rider, both of which had regularly scheduled open times daily. The 24-hour mini golf course is available any time people want to use it, other than during a scheduled competition. They also had a sports court, gym, and several pools and hot tubs. With deck chairs in sheltered areas, sunny areas, quiet areas, and busy areas anyone can find somewhere to sit and relax, read, nap, or people watch. There’s also a jogging track, shuffleboard courts, arcade, and ping-pong tables. Though the mini golf course on this ship looks like an afterthought it’s still fun to play. It sometimes got crowded during the daytime, but in the evening there was rarely anyone else there. One day I went to play mini golf, but then people started a golf competition, so I went down to sit outside on deck 4 and a shuffleboard competition started up. Just not my day I guess.
Inside the Explorer of the seas there’s an open area several decks high called the Royal Promenade that resembles a small city. It has shops, a pub, and a nice little café where everything except the specialty coffee and ice cream is free. People can hang out there or at the little tables along the walkway. There are also seats on overlooking decks where people can sit to read or people watch.
When we booked this cruise they had a starting price for massages lower than I’d ever seen on a cruise ship before. Of course when I went to book one that wasn’t the standard price (which was higher on sea days than on port days.) The really good price was only for the first day. We were originally assigned to late seating dinner, and on the wait list for early. By the time the cruise came we had gotten assigned to early dinner, which was during the time I had booked the massage so I missed dinner in the dining room and went to the buffet instead. It was actually pretty nice there. No crowd like there is at breakfast or lunch and the food was good.
I didn’t meet our tablemates on the second day either. It was the first formal night of the cruise and we got an invitation that day for dinner at the captains table with the staff captain – 2nd in command of the ship, and on this ship he’s the guy who docks the boat. The captain’s table is a big round table on the main floor of the deck 3 dining room, visible from the other two levels. Dinner there is by invitation only.
There were 4 other couples and the chief safety officer there too. Each seat had a name card. We were seated next to the staff captain, a very nice guy. His shift is 10 weeks on, 10 weeks off. The safety officer was on the other end of the table so we didn’t get a chance to talk to him. There was a special menu just for that table different to what was served to everyone else. It was the best meal we had on the entire cruise.
At home I run 3 days a week in parks near to my home. On ships I usually run outside on the promenade deck, but on this one I actually used the gym because it opened at 6am rather than 8 like a lot of other ships we’ve been on. You pretty much have to be there right at 6 if not before because the treadmills fill up quick. Most of the people were just walking, but maybe they didn’t like the promenade deck or jogging track on this ship any better than I did since both go through or past smoking areas, which is not conducive to good health and the last thing anyone out for exercise wants.
On the 3rd day I finally met 2 of our tablemates. The other 2 couples didn’t come to dinner in the dining room that night. One person was seasick and the other couple went to one of the ship’s premium restaurants called Chops Grille. Eventually I met them all. They were all nice people and we enjoyed talking to them. On short cruises we usually choose the any time dining, but on long cruises there’s less ports and more time to linger over dinner and meet new people so we tend to pick a set dining time there.
One day I tried the rock climbing wall, just because it’s there. It’s not super high, but harder than it looks. I climbed a much higher one at an REI store once without any trouble years ago, but besides being younger then it was long before I ever broke my elbow. I got about halfway up the wall before my previously broken elbow started protesting. I don’t quite have full range of motion in that arm and a bit of nerve damage that affects my fingers. By the time I made it three quarters of the way up the whole arm was shaking. I was closer to the top than the bottom by then though and climbed the rest of the way up out of sheer stubbornness. It took awhile for the arm to recover afterword so I didn’t climb the wall again during the rest of the cruise. The next day I watched other people attempt it. Most didn’t even get halfway, though there were a few that scrambled right up to the top.
We tried Johnny Rockets for lunch once, but weren’t impressed. It’s a burger joint that you have to pay a bit extra for, but the fries were exactly the same as what they serve free at the buffet and the other food no better than what you get there either. Milkshakes have an additional charge, yet ice cream sundaes are one of the included dessert options. The sundae was the best part of the meal.
Explorer has an ice arena. On the 5th day of our cruise they had an ice show. There’s not nearly enough room for everyone to watch at once so they had 4 performances over 2 days with show attendance times assigned according to muster stations. We had the last time, but it was worth the wait. It was the best show we saw on this ship. We met one of the skaters the first day of the cruise because he was the crew person in charge of our muster station at the muster drill, which is always a requirement to attend on the first day of any cruise so everybody knows where to go in the event of an emergency.
Some of the evening shows were pretty good too. Just a few involved their production cast, which is set up for week-long cruises. Most shows this cruise came from guest performers. They had the usual things like musicians, comedy, and magicians, but they had some unique shows as well. One night’s show was a hypnotist. The next day I had lunch at a table in the dining room with other people randomly seated there by the order they came in. Luckily I did not say I didn’t like hypnotist shows when one of the guys at the table asked if people had enjoyed the show. I hadn’t gone to the show and didn’t know he was the hypnotist until others at the table recognized him. The pickpocket guy’s evening show was so popular he had a lecture on how not to get pickpocketed the next day. His show was pretty amazing. He could wander through the crowd and get things like watches and ties from people he talked to while the people were totally oblivious.
Speaking of oblivious people, I always wonder why on cruise ships everywhere on any walkway no matter how wide or narrow, if there is just one person they walk down the center, often drifting side to side to prevent anyone from passing. If there are 2 or more people they sprawl across the entire walkway and do everything they can not to let anyone past, all while moving at the pace of a crippled snail. Then again maybe it’s just human nature because people sometimes do that other places besides cruise ships, and that really slow car on the highway often speeds up as soon as there is a passing lane, only to slow down again once the road narrows back to one lane per direction.
I had all but forgotten about Lamingtons until I saw them one afternoon at the promenade café. It’s an Australian dessert that I first tried at an airport in Fiji, and had again later on a shore excursion to Hobbiton in New Zealand. These little squares of cake dipped in chocolate and coated in coconut were best dessert on the ship for the entire cruise. The first time the café had any the majority of passengers had no clue what they were so they were available all day. The café only had them sometimes and not every day. Each successive time they ran out earlier as more people discovered this super tasty treat.
Eventually the ship got far enough south for the weather to warm up enough to try the flow rider. They offered stand up surfing and boogie boarding. Preferring to stay alive and uninjured, I only tried the boogie boarding, which is quite fun. If you take too long before wiping out they try and get you to go up on your knees, which some people can do well, but newbies usually wipe out trying. Some people do all sorts of tricks, others need the attendant to keep them off the wall. Regardless of skill level most people enjoyed it enough to keep coming back on other days.
We tried dinner at Giovanni’s on night, which is one of their premium restaurants, serving upscale Italian food. Appetizers came in large enough portions to make a dinner just from them. The eggplant parmesan was excellent. John said the scallops were delicious as well. The entrée also had plenty of food. The shrimp tasted good, but was a bit hard to get out of the shell. We didn’t try it, but the steak got good reviews from other people. Tiramisu was the best dessert according to people who like coffee, which I don’t. Their chocolate cake was better than the dining room’s, but not as good as the lamingtons at the café.
A couple days after our Hawaiian ports the ice arena finally started having some open skating sessions for the passengers. I hadn’t skated since I was a kid, but decided to give it a try. The pair of skates I got was bulky and uncomfortable and had a toe pick extending all the way down to the front of the blade. The last point actually pointed downward into the ice extending lower than the blade making it hard to skate without tripping on the toe pick, but I found out that I can still skate. I did trip once from not holding my toes up high enough to keep that obnoxious toepick out of the ice. Not all the skates have that so the next time when they tried to give me a pair like that I asked for different ones and had a much easier time skating with in a pair with no toepick at all. It was just as bulky and uncomfortable though. Maybe they got that style for cheap, or maybe they picked extremely uncomfortable skates on purpose so people wouldn’t stay out on the ice long to keep the arena from getting too crowded. At first I wondered why some people used up suitcase space to pack their own skates, but after skating in theirs it became obvious. I would have skated longer with better skates, but it was still fun. It’s not just me, other people mentioned the skates hurting their feet too.
Unfortunately selfishly leaving towels and other items on deck chairs to save them for hours on end with nobody there is prevalent on cruise ships and this one was no exception. Though all the ships have signs saying they will pick up things left unattended for too long nobody ever does. This often made it hard to find available deck chairs in prime places like the sheltered area of the solarium, although some passengers will move other people’s stuff when they want a chair since the crew won’t. That was our favorite spot since the solarium was non-smoking and had more comfortable deck chairs than anywhere else. Unfortunately the towels of the chair hogs spent more time in those chairs than any of the passengers. We did find a row of deck chairs we liked near the back of the non-smoking side of the promenade deck. It wasn’t as nice as the solarium, but nobody ever seemed to go there so we could always get a chair. It was a nice place in good weather since it had the shade of the deck above. It also had a shuffleboard court so one day we gave that a go. I won one game and John won the other. At first we didn’t think either of us would score at all, but we got the hang of it after a couple rounds. Not enough to say we are anywhere close to good at it, but we managed to score some points.
On one of the sea days we took a behind the scenes tour. Most of the big cruise ships offer them through the shore excursions department. They vary a bit from one line to another and even among different ships of the same line, but generally the galley, laundry, and bridge are among the things you get to see. This one allowed cameras which was nice since the last one we took on a different line did not.
Ocean crossings have lots of sea days to relax and enjoy all the things the ship has to offer. People can spend their time doing one activity after another or just sit in a deck chair and do nothing. Whatever works for them. We made it to our port stops in Fiji and were on the way to Vanuatu when one of the passengers took ill. At first they were going to evacuate him by helicopter, but then decided it was too cloudy for that. Instead the ship sped up and bypassed Vanuatu, heading instead to New Caledonia where they could take him to shore for transport to a hospital. Vanuatu was the only port where we had an excursion booked through the ship. Just like our last pacific crossing where the missed port Bora Bora was the only one where we had a ship’s excursion booked. Maybe it is bad luck to book a snorkel excursion through the ship in advance on transpacific cruises.
Generally food this cruise was a bit disappointing compared to Celebrity, which Royal Caribbean owns, although frequent Royal cruisers said it was not up to par for Royal’s usual quality on this voyage and one jokingly mentioned they were probably cleaning out the food storage areas before arriving in Australia. Some things besides the lamingtons were surprisingly good though, like the day we found fresh from the oven warm cookies at the lunchtime pool deck BBQ. They had pretty good chicken there too.
We made both our ports in New Caledonia. You would think getting so many people off a ship this big would be a major hassle, especially at tender ports, but that’s not the case. They are so efficient that tender tickets are not needed and when docked the line moves very quickly – probably due in part to no photographers stuffing up the line because they are nowhere near the gangway. Australian customs people came on board in New Caledonia to run everyone through their customs system before arriving in port. Maybe that’s a thing with overseas cruises heading into Australia because they came on at the last port on our previous transpacific cruise too. It really speeds up the customs process with this many people arriving at once since it is all done before we get there. Appointment times were scheduled by muster station and the process went far more quickly than it would if we all lined up at random onshore.
On the last day they had a best of the best flowrider competition with 6 pre-chosen people on the stand-up boards. Audience cheering determined the winner, which was the oldest guy. He was the only American in the competition and the worst of the bunch in performance so least deserving to win. The actual best was either the Russian girl or young Australian guy, but the crowd had a lot more Americans. The crew guys running the show tried about 3 different ways to get a more fair response, but finally gave up and let him win.
Following that the flowrider staff put on a flow show, which was one of the best shows of the whole cruise.
The ship docked at Circular Quay. Cruise ships too big to fit under the Sydney Harbour Bridge dock at the overseas terminal there. Which is the better of Sydney’s cruise ports since White Bay is out in the middle of nowhere. Circular Quay is in the heart of Sydney’s tourist area with a view of both of its main icons from the ship – the opera house and the bridge. The historic Rocks area is an easy walk from the ship. Harbor Cruises, ferries, and water taxis are docked in the same harbor a couple hundred yards walk from the ship and across the walkway from a train station so you can walk off the ship and get just about anywhere. You can also catch a hop-on-hop-off bus over the other side of Circular Quay near the free botanical garden. Circular Quay itself is a tourist destination with shops and restaurants.
Copyright My Cruise Stories 2018