Last weekend cruising history was made as Royal Caribbean’s Explorer of the Seas became the biggest cruise ship ever to be based in Australia and was greeted by her twin sister Voyager of the Seas in Sydney Harbour for the big moment.
Around 10,000 passengers and crew were onboard the two big ships as they crossed paths for the first time in Australia, and I was one of those up on Explorer of the Seas’ top deck near the FlowRider, waving Aussie flags at fellow cruisers on Voyager who were madly waving their flags back.
At 138,194 tons and 311 metres long and 48 metres wide Explorer of the Seas has snatched the crown of Australia’s Biggest Cruise Ship from her sister Voyager of the Seas. But only just, with Voyager sitting on 138,000 tonnes and the same length and width.
Having set sail on both megaliners I can confirm that when you’re onboard they are almost impossible to tell apart. Explorer of the Seas’ recent US$80 million makeover means that they now have the same features, restaurants, entertainment options and, well, pretty much everything.
If there was a magical way to switch you to the other ship while you were sleeping the only real way you could tell them apart the next day is if you paid attention to the art on the walls.
Someone like me who used the rather brilliant Annie Leibovitz shot of Dolly Parton with Arnold Schwarzenegger as a sign that I was in the stairwell closest to my stateroom would be thrown to see something else in Dolly and Arnie’s spot. Other than that you’d probably have no idea what had happened until you realized your favourite staff members weren’t just on a long break.
While most people sailing into Sydney harbour on that big day had just completed a 16-day cruise from Perth around Adelaide and Melbourne to New Zealand and then back over to Australia again, I had joined for the last leg from Wellington to Sydney.
That means my trip was purely Sea Days between the two cities, and so I had plenty of time to come up with some travel tips for your own days at sea when you go cruising on Explorer – and Voyager – of The Seas.
That’s Entertainment at Sea
While most ships have a theatre of sorts where shows are put on, Explorer of the Seas has that and much more.
As well as your more traditional shows in the theatre Royal Caribbean is the only cruise line with ice skating rinks on board. In the 700-seat Studio B you can watch champion ice skaters spin and leap and show off all sorts of icy moves, and when the professionals aren’t using the rink guests can get their skates on.
The ship has three pools on board, including the adults only pool in the Solarium, and there are six whirlpools to choose from.
You can even watch movies and big sporting events on a big screen under the stars as you float in a pool. That said, if the sea on your sea days is a little rough the pools may have to be drained, but you may still be able to watch the outdoor flicks on one of the sun loungers. Or you could always go inside to the 3D movie theatre if you want to escape the elements.
You can let your competitive spirit have some fun with the trivia and bingo comps, and karaoke is also an option.
While I generally avoid karaoke out of fear I may be dragged up I did enjoy singing along a little bit with the guitarist in the Crown & Kettle Pub one night. Nothing like an English pub that’s just a few metres away from your bed somewhere at sea.
And you can find the occasional street parade and party happening on the Royal Promenade, the indoor ‘main street’ that stretches three quarters of the ship’s length.
Sporty At Sea Days
If you like to get the adrenalin pumping you can head up to the back of the ship where you’ll find the FlowRider surfing simulator, a rock climbing wall, a full sized basketball court and mini golf.
Okay okay, mini golf is not the sportiest of activities but the day Michael Time Travel Turtle and I had a go the winds off New Zealand were so strong that just standing upright felt like a total body workout so I’m putting it in the sporty category.
As mentioned earlier you can take a turn on the ice skating rink, and gym bunnies can get a work out with a rather spectacular view. There are also gym classes you can attend, with a combination of free and paid options.
Or you can even do some exercises in your stateroom if you’d rather do such things behind closed doors.
Eat Your Way Around Explorer of the Seas
As part of the recent mega bucks makeover Explorer of the Seas gained three new specialty dining restaurants. And being all about the research I tried every one. And some of the others. I’m just good that way.
As regular cruisers will know you can spend your whole cruise eating without spending an extra dime, or you can choose to spend a little more and go to one of the specialty restaurants.
The complimentary meals can be found in a number of places. First you have the main Sapphire Dining Room which at over three decks and seating 1,920 people is the largest restaurant in Australasia. Open for breakfast lunch and dinner here you can choose from an a la carte menu with an option for a buffet on one of the levels for breakfast.
The buffets on offer at the Windjammer Café are also complimentary and it may take a few laps to decide what to get as there’s quite a bit on offer. When the Windjammer gets busy you may have to swoop when a table becomes available but if you time it right the Windjammer is a great option.
Then there’s complimentary dining at the Island Grill and Café Promenade, and you can also get room service free of charge, except between midnight and 5am when there’s a cover charge for delivering.
The three new specialty restaurants on board the ship are Izumi, Chops Grille and Giovanni’s Table.
The Japanese restaurant Izumi is where you’ll find delicious sushi and sashimi, bowls of ramen and soba noodles and more. You can even do a little of your own cooking on hot rocks at your table, and don’t skip dessert. As someone with a soft spot for mochi ice cream I was very happy to see that one on the menu. Price: A la carte menu prices plus a dining fee of US$3 per person for lunch and US$5 for dinner.
Chops Grille is your steak and seafood restaurant and does a fine job on both. I couldn’t resist the ‘everything crusted tuna’ and only wish I had more days at sea so I could go back and try some of the steaks that looked so good on my dining companions’ plates. Then again if I’d had room I could have actually had both as once you’ve paid your cover charge you can eat as much as you want. But funnily enough three courses did the trick for my tummy so I didn’t take that on. Price: US$30 per person.
Giovanni’s Table taps into the Tuscan trattoria vibe with classic Italian dishes. Order your own appetisers and mains and share huge bowls of pasta between you. You definitely want to bring your appetite to this one so resist any afternoon teas before Giovanni’s. Price: Lunch US$15 dinner US$20 per person
Meanwhile the retro burger bar that is Johnny Rockets diner brought back some Melrose memories for me, and I was happy to find that even though the Peanut Butter milkshake I used to love wasn’t on the menu they were happy to whip one up for me. The only thing is I didn’t notice that some drinks, including their famous milkshakes, aren’t included in the US$7 fee for dining here so it pretty much doubled the check I signed at the end. But that’s probably for the best because it stopped me from going back just to have another milkshake. Just.
Get Pampered At Sea
If all of that relaxing and eating is getting too much you can head for the Vitality Spa for some pampering.
Here you can get massages and facials, have your hair cut or coloured, get your teeth whitened or unwind on the heated beds in the Thermal Suite. While I’d be a bit nervous about someone coming at me with a needle on a moving ship they also offer acupuncture and even Botox.
Keep in mind that an 18% gratuity will be added to the price you see on the spa menu. You don’t want to get tense about that surprise after you’ve had a massage.
And also remember that the spas have daily specials, which are a great way to have a little pampering and usually let you try a combination of a few of their services for less than the cost of one of the usual treatments.
Sea days are the perfect time to enjoy a long, guilt free lie in or take a cheeky afternoon nap in your stateroom, just because you can.
Keep in mind the amount of time you’ll want to spend in your stateroom will be affected by the type of stateroom you have. Personally when I’ve had sea views and a balcony I could cocoon myself away for hours on end and read a book or just blissfully watch the ocean go by.
On Explorer of Seas I had an inside room overlooking the boulevard. My window was the one with ‘Cafe’ from the Cafe Promenade sign in front of it which meant if I opened my blackout curtains everyone outside my window could see into my room. There were some light curtains as well but I soon realized that people could still see me even if I couldn’t see them as clearly if I only had those closed.
As that made me feel a bit uncomfortable I didn’t spend much time relaxing in that room as I normally would on a cruise and instead would go out to the public spaces to find a quiet spot.
That said, a lot of the interior staterooms now have ‘Virtual Balconies’ with large 80 inch screens that stretch almost from floor to ceiling and show you what’s going on outside the ship in real time. While I didn’t get to experience that one I think that would be my second choice after a real balcony as I now know boulevard view rooms are not for me.
Also keep in mind that while at sea the TV choices are limited and you have to pay US$11.99 to rent a movie. If you like chilling out with TV shows or the odd movie it’s a good idea to load up your tablet or laptop with some options.
Place Your Bets in the Onboard Casino
You can only gamble on a ship when you’re out to sea or in port in a few countries where gambling on a ship is permitted (and no, Australia is not one of those countries). So if you’re one of those people who likes to roll the dice this is the time to do it.
When I’m on a winning streak I quite like a ship’s casino. Funnily enough when I’m not winning I wish I’d spent that money on something else.
For me the best way to go into any casino is with an amount of money I’d be happy to lose and to see the spending of said money as entertainment. Once my pre-set limit is gone, it’s gone, and I’m not allowed to spend any more. And as I set such a teeny tiny limit of $20 (hey big spender!) I don’t leave the ship with a gambling hangover.
If you do want to gamble, also keep in mind that the ship’s casino only takes US dollars, so if you have some at home bring them with you. The ATM charges a $6 fee to give out money or it’s 5% on top of the amount you take out if you get it from the cashier and put it on your cruise card.
Sea Day Shopping on Explorer of the Seas
Duty free shopping is another Sea Day perk that can’t be enjoyed when you’re in port.
On Explorer of the Seas most of your shopping can be done along the Royal Promenade, with everything from ship souvenirs to diamond watches.
I could be found more than once in the Kate Spade section of the handbag store trying to resist buying the Champagne and Watering Can shaped handbags. I managed to leave them on board, and even forced myself to walk away from all of the gorgeous handbags on sale. And I tamed my magpie / drag queen side long enough to stop myself putting a whole lot of Swarovski on my cruise card.
But I may have walked off the ship with a new pair of Spade shaped earrings. A girl has to have a little reminder of a trip like this after all.
So there we have some of my favourite ways to spend my sea days.
How about you? What do you like to get up to when you have a whole day on a ship? And have you had your first megaliner experience yet? I’d love to hear your thoughts so do share in the comments box below.
Amanda Woods travelled as a guest of Royal Caribbean but all opinions remain her own.
Love cruising? You may want to check out out my pieces on cruising the Med on Azamara Quest, remember what it was like to take a vacation on Celebrity Century or find out what it’s like to go to Antarctica on a Russian icebreaker.