There is a new Explorer of the Seas. No, Royal Caribbean did not scrap one of its most popular ships and recycle the name to a new-build. Rather, it has made an extensive investment in the ship, giving her a fresh feel and new features. As a result, Explorer remains a first tier cruise ship.
“This was the single biggest revitalization of a ship the company has ever done. It was just shy of $100 million,” explains Explorer's Hotel Director Gordon Marshall.
“We left Port Canaveral and did a 10 day crossing of the Atlantic with no guests aboard. This is quite unusual because mostly when we re-position a ship, we will do it with guests. But that was because the revitalization process actually began the moment the last guests walked off the ship.”
Most of the work, however, was done while the ship was in drydock in Cadiz, Spain. “We were there for 35 days. Most of March and the whole of April up to the 24th, the ship was out of service with about 2,200 contractors living onboard plus a thousand of her regular crew. You have a whole process that went on 24 hours a day for the entire time.”
“It was part of what we call the 'Build to Wow and Oasis Rollback'. You take some of the features of the Oasis class that did not exist on the original Voyager class when they were launched and you add them in. So we look at what was new and innovative [in the ships] after us and we decide the things we can add and what makes sense.”
To illustrate, Explorer, the second ship in Royal Caribbean's Voyager class, entered service with only one specialty restaurant, Portofino's. During the revitalization, two specialty restaurants that debuted on Oasis of the Seas - - Izumi and Giovanni's Table - - were added. The Portofino's was transformed into Royal Caribbean signature specialty restaurant the Chops Grille.
Along the same lines, Explorer now has a Flowrider surfing simulator, a feature first seen on Royal Caribbean's Freedom class ships. Other new features included the transformation of the Champagne Bar into the R Bar and the Aquarium Bar was changed into The Tavern.
In the Royal Promenade, the ship was given a more restrained contemporary look. Of course, throughout the ship, carpeting and fabrics were changed.
“Nowadays, all the cruise lines look at density as well. The more guests you can add, the more efficient the ship is and the more cost effective it is.” Thus, changes were made to make more efficient use of space. This included the addition of a new series of oceanview cabins by the spa on Deck 12. Naturally, the spa was given a new design in the process.
Above: A new section of cabins was added during the refit.
Above: The outdoor promenade was changed and new rescue boats added.
Below: A new tender station designed to facilitate tendering in ports where Explorer cannot dock.
Off to see the world
Explorer is taking her new look on the road. After some eight years of being based in New York harbor, Explorer is off to see the rest of the world.
Following her drydock in Spain, Explorer headed north to do a season sailing out of Southampton in the United Kingdom.
“The UK market is a very important market for us. It is a very, very mature market. If you go over to the [Ocean Terminal in Southampton], you can see the bollards where the Titanic tied up. So Royal Caribbean is positioning itself very strongly in that market.”
Much of Royal Caribbean's success in the UK market was achieved during the years when Independence of the Seas was based in Southampton and the fact that Independence still has a strong following in Britain is not lost on Royal Caribbean in assigning Explorer to the UK..
“The Independence was what the guests' expectation was - - a Freedom class ship. So we had to make ourselves like a Freedom class ship and even better than that.” Inasmuch as the Freedom class ships are a lengthened version of the Voyager class design and since after her revitalization, Explorer is an enhanced Voyager, she is well-positioned to offer an experience similar to that offered on Independence.
Also based in Southampton this season is Royal Caribbean's latest ship Anthem of the Seas, a Quantum class ship. “Even though we [both] have Royal Caribbean painted on the sides, it is very different.” Consequently, Anthem appeals to a somewhat different segment of the market than Explorer.
This is not unusual. Royal Caribbean seeks to provide guests different options. It does not offer a single cruise experience that is the same throughout its fleet. Yes, there are signature features and uniform ways of doing things that stamp the experience as Royal Caribbean but the ships offer different experiences roughly corresponding to the class of ship.
To illustrate, “the Vision class ships are small and intimate, a very different experience than the Voyager class. The Vision class ships have been revitalized and [for] an awful lot of our guests, that is they type of ship they like. They don't even want to come to this class“
“People are still finding their way with the Quantum class. As the guests start to develop more knowledge of the Quantum class, they will make a decision based upon which one they like.”
The cruise experience also varies based upon the market a particular ship is serving. “We want to keep the brand as Royal. But you want standardization with localization.” Thus, while sailing out of Southampton, Explorer has tea kettles in the staterooms and the breakfast menu contains such items as English sausage, English bacon - - things that it did not have when it was based in New York.
Indeed, on a sailaway out of Southampton, Explorer sounds more British than the traditional British lines. A medley of patriotic songs play from the ship's public address system as she sails past ships from Cunard and P&O Cruises.
“We try to do a little British thing for fun for the first 20 minutes. We do what we call 'Proms by the Pool.' The Proms in London at the Albert Hall has a very specific set of songs that they do and they have always done it since 1906. It is Land of Hope and Glory, Rule Britannia, then a couple of sea songs, then Jerusalem and the national anthem. We [do] just a verse and a chorus of each song, 500 little Union Jacks are handed out and everybody just has a blast. I love it, it is fun.”
Following her British season, Explorer will sail to the other side of the world. “We reposition into Australia for the winter, homeport in Sydney. We'll do Australia for the whole season and then we come up to Alaska for the summer. We will be the first Voyager class ship in Alaska. We will carry the first ice rink to Alaska. I think there is a lot of fun in the fact that we will be carrying an ice rink to Alaska. I have been told that the bookings are very, very strong for Alaska. Then we will come back to Australia again. After that, it is wherever the company determines to put us.”
Cruise ship interview - Royal Caribbean International - Explorer of the Seas - Hotel Director Gordon Marshall