First Look At Explorer of the Seas

CruiseMates' editor Fran Golden visited Explorer of the Seas in Southhampton just prior to her crossing to the U.S. The ship debuts in New York Oct. 17, 2000 before moving to Miami.

Why mess with a good thing? Royal Caribbean didn't. The 137,000-ton Explorer of the Seas is the world's biggest biggest ship (beating its predecessor Voyager of the Seas by some 28 tons), but otherwise is very similar to its sister ship. And as Martha Stewart would say, "That's a good thing." But I did discover several new features.

Like the Voyager, the Explorer -- which recently previewed in Southhampton, U.K., prior to its official U.S. introduction in New York -- boasts extraordinary recreational facilities.

What does set the Explorer apart is its new science offerings. The ship is home to Atmospheric and Oceanographic labs operated by the University of Miami and NOAA (National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration). Real-life scientists will be on board doing science experiments on wind, water and the like. And guests can take a scheduled tour of a lab, watch through glass while scientists work, and enjoy hands-on science exhibits much like you'd find in a science museum.

There are, of course, other interior design differences between the Voyager and the new ship. The Explorer's most striking room is the disco, done up in Gothic style complete with gargoyles, sconces with fake flames, and stained glass-style windows.

Explorer of the Seas' outdistances all but her sister ship in terms of on-board activities including a rock climbing wall, mini golf course, basketball/volleyball court, and in-line skating track, as well as extensive children's facilities including enormous play areas, a kiddie pool with slide, and a teen disco, which in this case includes an Internet Cafe corner. The video game area, already large on the Voyager, has been expanded here. And like its predecessor, the Explorer is home to a Johnny Rockets.

There is also, of course, the ice skating rink, which Royal Caribbean officials said was the most popular feature on the Voyager. The new Planet Ice show, which previewed to European agents and press on a two-day preview sailing, is excellent, and received a standing ovation. Loosely based on a space theme, it includes a psychedelic sequences to music by The Doors. A new stage show, History Repeating, which previewed in the Explorer's theatre, is one of the best shipboard shows ever with wonderful dancing and singing, and lavish sets and costumes. One segment featuring Madonna's song Vogue had the women singers and dancers in Marie Antoinette garb and the men in hot pants with thigh-high boots. A James Bond segment included Guns n' Roses' Live and Let Die (if these shows aren't geared towards the Baby Boomer crowd what is?).

The wonderful Promenade introduced on the Voyager, wide and long enough to host parades, and offering Promenade-view guestrooms, is little changed on the new ship. The line did take out the mini Promenade casino, replacing it with a mini video game room next to the Explorer's extreme sports-themed sports bar (there had been talk of adding pool tables, but that feature will be saved for next year's Radiance).

The three-story dining room on the Explorer is somehow less extraordinary than on the Voyager -- while the Voyager's opulent space, reminiscent of the Titanic, caused jaws to drop, the Explorer's art deco styling just seems more run-of-the-mill. eastern Caribbean itinerary from Miami beginning October 28.

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