|Kuki's daily accounts aboard the Explorer of the Seas.|
|Day 1 | Day 2 | Day 3 | Days 4 & 5 | Days 6 & 7 | Day 8|
Putting out your 'Do Not Disturb' sign is one of the greatest pleasures of cruising. Today our scheduled stop is in Labadee, Royal Caribbean's private island. (It's not really an island but an isolated section of Haiti.)
It's basically a beach day, with a visit to the Haitian Market for most passengers, although the port stop also offers kayaking, para-sailing, snorkeling, Waverunner (jet ski) excursions, beach volleyball and a barbecue lunch.
For us, it was another day of relaxation. Mrs. Kuki had cut her foot earlier in the cruise (when she missed my throat), and couldn't go in the sea because of the sting of the salt water, so we headed back to the ship early. I had a couple of Creamsicles to work up my nerve for an attempt on the rock climbing wall, but I found it closed again. Instead, I attempted another daredevil stunt: downing more Creamsicles. I've found I actually have a talent for that activity.
Too much participation in that activity led me back to the cabin for my afternoon nap, and then on to dinner. Tonight's menu, like most on this cruise, was excellent--so good, in fact, that tonight I felt compelled to order two separate entrees. However, I was deeply saddened to learn that RCI's signature dessert, key lime pie, is no longer on the menu. I was aghast.
Another disturbing item: Even after we had assured our waitress. Kinga, all week that we couldn't be more pleased with her service, she gave us the customary lecture about how important the passenger comment cards are to her job. I cut this discussion short, but I believe RCI needs to rethink the way it apparently stresses this so much with its staff. They seem to feel that they must beg for good grades like a school child. It sends us passengers the message that they've been treating us well because they need us to give them good grades, not because they enjoy it.
The after-dinner entertainment tonight was the passenger talent show, followed by a revue style show. I understood this was going to mean more singing than I possibly wanted to hear, so I sent Mrs. Kuki off to the shows while I headed for Casino Royale. This turned out to be a terrible mistake, as I blew my winnings from the previous nights. But it was more enjoyable than it should have been, thanks to the friendliness of the dealers.
The layout of the casino is really pretty bad, considering the size of the ship. All the table games are lined up in a narrow passageway against a wall. They are placed very close together, without much room for passing by.
The Grand Buffet was scheduled for tonight, but with my excess of two entrees at dinner, I could do nothing more than look. And it looked magnificent.
As I headed up to my cabin, I realized that after cruising for almost two weeks, I waddle now more than I walk. I'm a smart veteran cruiser, though: For the last night onboard, I have a clean pair of pants with a tie drawstring waist.
Day 7 on Explorer of the Seas Kuki meets the chief purser and the captain
I had an interesting morning during this day at sea. When I went to the Lido Deck for my coffee fix and pack of cigarettes, I noticed members of the ship's "Deck Patrol" telling passengers that they were not allowed to "save" deck chairs for later use by placing personal items on them and walking away. It was good to see another example of a cruise line enforcing its rules once. As a result, it was easy to find empty chairs by the main pool all day.
After the coffee cleared the morning cobwebs from my mind, I sat down for a discussion with the Explorer's Chief Purser, Randy Johnstone, a fellow Canadian and therefore a great guy. Randy had worked on Voyager and then Explorer when they started service. As he described his job, I was surprised to hear how much falls onto his plate.
As we talked, I watched Randy's closed-circuit TV, which provided a view of the line that had formed at the guest relations desk. Since it was the last full day of the cruise, people were dealing with debarkation issues, paying off their "super charge" accounts, etc.
I asked Randy to relate some of his favorite bizarre guest complaints. Before sharing some stories, he explained that guest relations problems are much easier to deal with, since many of them are handled on the spot--i.e. on the ship--these days. Guests with problems used to be referred to the customer relations department at the line's head office in Miami.
He did say it can be difficult to distinguish between legitimate passenger gripes that need solutions, and passengers who may be trying to get something for nothing. He mentioned one passenger who came to him ranting and raving after the ship was unable to stop at Labadee due to weather conditions. The passenger demanded a full refund of his fare, claiming that he specifically booked this cruise for its stop in Labadee, where he had an important business meeting downtown.
For those who may not immediately recognize the humor in this, Labadee is RCI's private island, and is basically a beach day for ship's passengers. There is no downtown Labadee. Obviously this passenger's complaints fell on deaf ears.
I saw people at the counter paying off their accounts in cash, and asked Randy if many people do this, rather than leaving it on their credit cards. "Some people will pay off their account, then go and buy some sundry item in a shop, then come back and pay of their account again, and then go and have drinks somewhere on the ship, and then come back and pay off their account once again, on and on," he said.
Randy stressed that people really should deal with their problems on the ship. The staffers onboard will do their utmost to find a solution before the problem adversely affects your vacation, he told me.
After our conversation, Randy led me up to the bridge for a private conversation with Captain Ole-Johan Gronhaug. The bridge on Explorer is quite different from bridges I've visited on other ships. It really does look like the images one might have of the ship's bridge on Star Trek. The centerpiece is a horseshoe-shaped computer console with two "captain's chairs" in the middle. Both chairs have a joystick for steering the ship. The Captain pointed out that the Explorer has no rudders, since it's equipped with the new Azipod propulsion system. (That means the propellers are mounted on moveable pods that can be turned to steer the ship, making a rudder unnecessary.)
Captain Gronhaug took over as master of Explorer just a month ago, after leaving the same position on Enchantment of the Seas. He said these assignments usually last about two years, but nothing is written in stone. With the changes in the cruise industry, it's possible he could be transferred to another ship sooner.
The Captain told me he normally entertains guests at dinner five times during a seven-day cruise. On this sailing, he was feeling a bit under the weather, and only managed to have three such evenings. It was certainly an honor and a pleasure for us to be included in one of them. Both at dinner and in our private conversation, Captain Gronhaug was a gracious, informative and lively host.
And that was just my morning! The afternoon was jam-packed with activities to fill a sea day. On Lido Deck, there were boisterous line-dancing lessons and a Men's Sexy Legs contest, followed by the Horse Races and Owners Race. The evening featured a comedy show, and the unique game of Quest--a must-see for newbies to RCI. And, of course, while Mrs. Kuki packed our bags, I stopped by the casino to say good-bye to my money.
I'm sure you can tell we enjoyed our cruise experience on the Explorer of the Seas. In my reports, I've mentioned a few areas that showed room for improvement. I think these exist on every ship--I have never experienced a perfect ship. While it's important to note things that could use improvement, the true test comes when it's time to disembark. And as with all good things, I didn't want this cruise to end. Tomorrow morning I'm going to have to force myself back into real life, but I'll be taking wonderful memories with me.