Sunday, 25 December 2016

Cruising is more about the ship, than the ports visited..

We love cruising and for us it is more about the ship, than the ports visited. So in saying that the cabin is important, regardless of how much time one spends in the cabin. This cruise we spent a little more time in the cabin, especially when we wanted a little peace and quiet - not a lot of spaces on the ship provide that, not even the library.
The Explorer of the Seas is a Voyager Class ship - I have no idea what that means :) - and can accommodate just over 3100 passengers and with 1018 crew. It has 15 decks and 15 pools/spas/whirlpools.
We chose a balcony cabin on deck 6, as this was the deck my sister and her friends were on. The cabin was similar layout to other cruise ships we have been on. The bed was so comfortable.
Can't say the same for Jonnie's bed. The lounge was made into a double bed for Jonnie, and it was so hard. We were surprised that the bed was not converted back into a lounge during the day, as on the Solstice, but we made do.
Each morning we would turn on the TV to check the location maps, and then the news channel. There were a number of channels, mostly repeating the same shows over and over. None as bad as the one channel that repeated the same one episode of Person of Interest over and over and over ... Guest Relations said they would look into it ...  We didn't watch a lot of TV, but it was good in the mornings, when we were getting changed for dinner, and in the evening when in bed.
We did like the towel art.
We like to order room service on port days, mainly because the main food dining area is usually packed with people in a hurry to disembark. We have found it more relaxing, and that is what cruising should be, to have breakfast on the balcony - overlooking the port we are visiting. We are never in a hurry to disembark. We only had room service once, for breakfast on our first port day in Vila. It was such a disappointment. It was difficult to get a breakfast room service menu - Guest Relations were arranging it - guess they still are!! We got a menu from my sister's room so put the order in. It arrived on time and had the most wonderful fruit platter. Sadly no milk arrived for our cereal or tea. Room Service hung up on us twice after waiting 20 and 10 minutes respectively. Guest Relations were quite abrupt saying they will organise it. Never did. I spoke with a young girl outside the door who was collecting the dishes left outside from other room service deliveries. She didn't understand much English, but understood that we needed milk and another tea cup and more teas, as now 70 minutes had gone by and our tea was cold. She arrived back 10 minutes later with all we needed. We never ordered room service again. The room service menu was very limited.
Food was wonderful in the Sapphire Dining Room each evening, and the staff were the best we have come across. The staff on the ship were all wonderful - except Guest Relations.
However, we were disappointed with the food on the Explorer overall. The first breakfast in the Windjammer Marketplace was Eggs Benedict, mostly under cooked, even the egg and the Hollandaise Sauce was unrecognizable. I did try it again a few days later, and it was much the same. 
 The scrambled eggs were very tasty, so breakfast each day was scrambled eggs, potato gems (which they called hash browns), one pancake and breakfast syrup. Seating was limited and finding somewhere to eat was difficult unless one went to breakfast about 10am. We only found a window seat twice the whole cruise.
Lunch was hit and miss. The Cafe on deck five had pastries, sweets and sandwiches each day, so if the Windjammer didn't have anything agreeable I could get a sandwich from the cafe, or just fruit and cheese from the Windjammer. We rarely found a seat in the Windjammer at lunch, so often ate either on the pool deck, if we had found a seat or table (which once found we didn't leave) or in our cabin.
 The Windjammer Marketplace closed completely twice a day, so the cafe was the only place to get a snack. Speaking of the cafe...I love my tea, but the cafe was limited in the choice of teas, so I ordered an English Breakfast tea with 'little milk' I couldn't drink it - it had so MUCH milk. I made a regular tea 'with little milk'. Big difference.  
The activities on board were also limited - unless one wanted the flow rider, rock climbing, or ice skating - to bingo, trivia and napkin folding, which we did the one time it was offered. We also did the origami box making. 
Cruising is what one makes of it. We enjoyed holidaying with my sister and her friends, and we did have a good time. Would we do it again? Yes we would, on a different cruise line. On Royal Caribbean maybe. On Explorer of the Seas, maybe not. We will see what comes up.

Saturday, 24 December 2016

First Impressions - Royal Caribbean Explorer of the Seas

 Way back in April, we had been looking at New Zealand cruises for the end of the year. I asked my sister if she was interested and she had just booked a Pacific Cruise with Royal Caribbean, so we decided it would be fun to cruise with my sister and brother in law - and it was.

We caught the ferry to Circular Quay and rounding the Opera House from Garden Island we saw the first sight of the ship.
Boarding was quick and easy. Once on board, and with first drink in hand we had our first of many encounters with Guest Relations - not impressed! But I'm not going to whinge to you about the poor guest relations and other issues we had - I've done that to Royal Caribbean!
The first cocktail I had was a mojito , and it was really sweet and looked weird – everything was blended, not enjoyable at all. I did have another one later in the cruise, and it was the same, even though I asked not to have a frozen one.
We had a walk around the ship and had drinks at a few different bars. That was interesting. The only thing that spoilt it was the number of unsupervised children running around.
Some of the other drinks/cocktails I had during the cruise were interesting. 
I enjoyed the scotch at the English pub - The Crown and Kettle.
...and the Brandy Alexander's from the Cocktail 'R' Bar most evenings as a night cap.
About half way through the cruise I discovered the Three Citrus Spritz - orange liqueur, red grapefruit, lemon, Cointreau and finished with prosecco - again from the R Bar - it became my pre-dinner drink.
My cocktail during the day was a Californian Cooler or a Toblerone (yummy Baileys)
The ship is quite spectacular and geared towards families and young people. There is a rock climbing wall, basket ball / activity court, video arcade, ....
 ... flow rider - which was fun to watch, ...
 ... mini golf, which were going to play, however, each time we went to play there were people waiting.
 Like all cruise ships there are a variety of pools and spas. There are displays and art work that were interesting. This motor bike was in the main thorough fare. 
This was in one of the bars...
 The main thorough fare.
 The R Bar.
A few evenings there were festivities or events in the main thorough fare.
On Sea days there were movies around the pool. We would have liked to see the new Star Trek movie again, but it's only screening was while we were scheduled to have dinner, and being the first night we thought we should have dinner with our new dinner companions. Sadly, RC mucked up the dining arrangements, so instead of being with my sister and her friends, we were with random couples who had also been placed incorrectly. So we could have skipped dinner in the dining room and watched the movie.
I was impressed with the art work around the ship.
This was in the main thorough fare.
My sister took so many photos on stairs around the ship, and I must say that was a good idea. I will remember that for our next cruise.
One of the specialist restaurants and the Schooner Bar.
The entrance to the Palace Theatre.
... and looking up.
The Star Lounge, where I went to Trivia games.
The last night there was a Christmas Parade.

It's the little things.... booking this cruise on the website was OK. However, the website tended to go around in circles, as did the Celebrity website – the 'sister' company. First impressions are important, and our first impressions of Royal Caribbean Explorer of the Seas were not that good. Staff were great, but little things like Guest Relations, first not listening to the problem, and second not fixing the problem first time, or in many cases second time! Food first day on board in the Windjammer Cafe was not that good, we thought maybe it was because it was the first day and they were feeding so many people, but the food didn't change much until half through the cruise, for a day or two, then it went back to mediocre. The fridge in our cabin barely worked. Guest Relations said that was normal!! Sorry Royal Caribbean, not good enough.

This was our first time on Royal Caribbean, and we will give it another go, maybe not on Explorer. Compared to other cruises, Celebrity is still our favourite.
Next time I'll show you the room and talk about the food.

Road Trip home.

After taking 5 nights / 6 days to get to Gippsland, and 5 nights to visit with family and help out, we headed home. We would have like to have stayed a little longer, but we had booked another cruise way back in April, and had to get home to pack.
I must apologise for not posting this earlier - I thought I had. 
Day 1 - After visiting with Peter's Mum, and filling up with fuel, we headed north to the NSW border. We didn't think we would make the border, but headed in that direction. As we had a few extra days to get back we went the inland road, and not the quicker Hume & Pacific Hwys. We must have taken a wrong turn as we ended up going to the west of Melbourne city before heading north. We needed to find a dump point, so off to Seymour, near Puckapunyal Victoria. We were most surprised to find this wonderful Commemoration dedicated to those who served in the Vietnam War. It was a short but moving walk up the street, with artefacts and information boards. Well done Seymour, not only an RV friendly town, but educational as well.
I loved the old house in the background, that we parked in front of.
As it took so long to go around Melbourne, we decided we would stay somewhere close. There was a free bush camp over the river from Seymour, so we thought we would have a look before moving on - just in case!!! Well, that was a great idea. There were a few vans already here, but we were able to camp right beside the Goulburn River. There were a few bugs around, and lots of firewood, but we don't have a fire pit - yet - and there were no rocks around to make one. We traveled 274km today.
Day 2 - After packing up we headed back into Seymour, and Maccas for breakfast, we headed to Table Top and the Ettamogah Pub. It started to rain not long after we left Seymour, and at times the rain was quite heavy.
We had read about this free camp on WikiCamps, and it was certainly interesting.
There was so much to look at, both inside and outside. The Ettamogah Pub was the creation of cartoonist Ken Maynard who started drawing the pub in 1959. There are a few around the country, but this has been the best so far.
 There is an upstairs area, I suspect for functions, and this is the view of our van in the carpark, in the rain.
The word ettamogah is Aboriginal for 'place of good drink' and the food was pretty great too.
 Day 3 - The next day, the rain had stopped, but there were a lot of flood waters still evident on the sides of the road. We must have been lucky to have missed most of the rain. We headed to Forbes, not expecting to find a good spot on Lake Forbes, but there were surprisingly a few spots left.
 The sunset over Lake Forbes.
Day 4 - We were not sure how far we would get this day, we just kept driving and ended up at Hickey Falls. We've been here before, but only for lunch.
It is only a short walk to the falls. It was surprising how quiet it was during the night, considering this is right on the highway.
Day 5 - We headed over the border and back into Queensland. We were not sure whee we would stay, we thought maybe Goondiwindi, but the free camp, which was lovely, really would not have suited our van slide-out. So we kept going. There were some lovely campsites beside the river, but there were no other campers, so we ended up in Inglewood. There is a lovely free camp just south of the town and it is an easy walk to the town. 
Days 6 & 7 - It was a short drive to Clifton, where we had decided to stay the night, but we do like it at Clifton, so we stayed two nights. It is the showgrounds, and at $10 a night for power, it is well worth it.
Breakfast on out last morning this trip. Ready for the next.