This was our second time on an Australia/New Zealand cruise however the first time without and kids and first time on a Royal Caribbean ship (Explorer of the Seas). From regional NSW, we drove to Sydney and parked at the Sydney Opera House. There we could leave our car at $20/ day by booking through Book a Bay that made good value considering the bags and things that we were all carrying. This was a relatively short stroll to the ship where we could leave our bags.
We only had this one day in Sydney and given we had a number of cruise days coming up we wanted to look around. There are plenty things to do and many attractions in the area such as taking the views from Sydney Tower – the city’s highest viewing point, escape to the Art Gallery of New South Wales, explore the Royal Botanic Gardens or a must-do is a back stage tour of the Sydney Opera House. I had recently broken a lens in a hiking misadventure so we decided to take a trip to Pitt Street where my wife could visit fashion stores and I could walk across to my two favourite photography shops. The line for embarkation was long and moved at a snail pace. Inline for at least an hour and half and by the time we boarded the ship we felt wrecked. There were smiles to greet us but what we needed was lunch and a drink. What better place for it then on a cruise?
Before cruising off, we did the mandatory emergency drill, to our surprise we were shown to the deck where a drill sergeant awaited us.
“Line up and get closer together, closer please and in lines!”
The drill doesn’t last too long and not even the drill sergeant could break our good spirits as was time to cruised off.
The Public Spaces
The ship has a contemporary décor with the ship undertaken a multi-million dollar refurbishment in 2015. Although being one the largest ships cruising Australian and New Zealand waters this is a very busy ship with close to 4,000 passengers. There is a great range of public areas in the ‘Royal Promenade’ that gives the ship a real village on the sea feeling.
The Royal Promenade is a four story high street that runs along the middle of the ship. Lining the ‘street’ includes cafes, shops and bars. This area is the focus of the ship and a place to get information, be entertained or eat and drink. It is also the place that all aboard the ship come together to party. Be warned that on party nights the Royal Promenade is standing room only.
We loved the Schooner Lounge as there was always trivia, a band or a piano playing. At times nothing was going on it always had a nice lounge to relax back into and read a book. Also, it was one of only a couple of the bars with an ice crusher that could do the cocktails my wife likes.
My wife enjoyed the Vitality Spa whilst I enjoyed the gym. The ship had the standard duty-free shopping deals although felt this lacked punch or anything exciting. Unless of course you like watches as this appeared to be their specialty.
This is great family ship and the families we met were all having a great time. Mainly because the kids were entertained in kids club or climbing the rock wall that overlooks the sea, playing basketball, ice-skating in Studio-B or our favorite mini-golf.
There were a number of pools and spas to relax although they were always so busy. A lot of kids filled the pools and it was hard just to relax in the water. The best time to go is before breakfast and you have the pool to yourself. It must be mentioned that there is no adult only area on this ship. So it is just lucky that the kids have a lot to do then to hang around the bars.
Our cabin was very spacious and comfortable, with a roomy balcony holding two chairs and a table. The bed was hard and uncomfortable leaving my back sore from one night. I opted to spend most my time on the couch. There was plenty of luggage storage beneath the bed and a cabinet that could hold all the small personal items. The room also came equipped with a kettle for self-made tea and coffee. Surprisingly, such a simple thing is great feature and a first in my cruise experience.
The large flat screen TV offered a variety of movies and TV shows, as well as news channels, so we knew what was happening around the world.
There are plenty of dining options including Windjammer café that has a very large buffet setting for Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner. There were many options available and food was always fresh. However, the buffet stayed the same for the entire cruise with very little variety and selection available. We also found that the noise, hustle and bustle of this café was all a bit too much for us to relax.
The main dining room spread across three levels with a large atrium in the center. Noise levels are quite high and the experience feels very busy. The food was inconsistent and the menu lacked imagination.
We tried all the specialty restaurants (fee apply) and highly recommend both Chops Grille for a great steak and Giovanni’s Table for a traditional and beautiful Italian. Izumi offered an Asian cuisine that was a little different however not really for us. Others we spoke to really enjoyed it.
There was a murder mystery night at Chops Grille (fee applies) that was played out by the ships stage performers. It is a lot of fun and great value. You also get to meet some nice people whilst you try to solve the mystery.
(Brunch) at Johnny Rockets Café is highly recommended. A small fee applies however you experience a 1950’s style diner offering hamburgers, fries, onion ring and milkshakes. The music beats, waiters dance and the food lived up to the vibe. One word of advice is to make sure you are hungry and be ready for the experience.
Café Promenade offers Starbucks coffee, snacks, pastries and sandwiches throughout the day and into the night. This a not bad little place for a snack although be prepared to line up for it.
The benefits on this ship with a balcony is room service. Room service had a limited offering but enough for a nice breakfast or a relaxing lunch.
The Ice Show which is held in Studio-B (an ice rink on the seas) is not to be missed. This has music, colour, dance and skill. It was by far the best show we saw on the ship.
The main shows were good however felt very repetitive with most performances involving songs from popular stage shows around the world. The shows need more improvement with more variety and possibly a theatre production of its own. Additionally, the talks and events lacked interest and things could really be improved with more engaging performances, speakers and subject matter.
- Cabin with a balcony.
- For a ‘premium dining’ experience, the specialty restaurants is a must.
- Murder Mystery Night at Chops Grille
- The Ice Show
- Johnny Rockets Café (At least once)
- Room Service (Free).
- My wife says to mention the Vitality Spa.
- Crowded public spaces
- Dining room food and service could improve
- Lack of variety in windjammer
- Repetitive entertainment.
Final word, this is a busy ship that will meet most expectations. It is set up for all ages and probably would be the best family ship we have been on. The ship lacks at least one bar/café given the size of ship. This is a small complaint as the ship handled the crowds well and provides so many options for all ages. This ship is highly recommended for families and extended families.
This is first of a series of post about cruising New Zealand. Sometimes its safe and secure to utilise the cruise offers however we often prefer to do it on our own as it offers better value and unique experiences. In New Zealand it is so easy to do so with quality tour agency all around the country that I plan to tell you all about. I hope that the series of posts will save you a lot of time and money.