Explorer of the Seas Live Blog - Day 4 - Skagway, Alaska

By: Matt Hochberg

Northern bound we go with our next stop in Skagway, Alaska.  Since Skagway is so close to Juneau, we were scheduled to arrive in Skagway fairly early, 7am.  In fact, we have a long day in port, staying until 8pm, which makes for one of the longest port stops I have ever done.

Our shore excursion was scheduled for right at 7:15am, which is really, really early. We picked this time instead of one later in the day so that we would have plenty of time to explore Skagway later on.  It made logical sense, but it did not help any when we had to wake up super early to get ready.

Explorer of the Seas was cleared right on schedule and we disembarked the ship and met up with our tour group at the end of the pier.  We had scheduled a Yukon Hummer Adventure, which allowed us to drive Hummer H3’s to tour the area.

There was just one other family in our excursion, so it was not a giant group.  A bus took us to the parking lot where the Hummers were waiting.

We had our own Hummer to drive and quickly were on the road in a small caravan, with a lead driver to guide us and each family (group of four) in a Hummer following.

Our trip would take us out of Skagway, across the Canadian border and into the Yukon territory.  

The entire tour lasted 4 hours, and we made periodic stops along the way at some scenic spots.  


The trip culminated with a visit to Emerald Lake, which is absolutely stunning to see that kind of water color outside of the Caribbean.

We also stopped in a small town for coffee, souvenirs and an opportunity to stretch our legs.

Along the way we did manage to spot a brown bear, which was a real highlight.  

Speaking of wildlife, it has been noticeably absent on this trip.  Based on what I had heard and read from others, as well as anecdotal evidence from locals, I was expecting to find a lot more wildlife in general in both Juneau and Skagway.  Obviously no one has any real control over the luck of seeing animals or not, but it just seemed to me abnormal.

We then reversed the course and headed back to Alaska.

Our excursion ended just before noon, so we grabbed lunch at the Bonanza Grill (good luck getting that classic tv theme song out of your head now).  We then spent the rest of the afternoon walking around Skagway.

Downtown Skagway is quite lovely, and is comprised of historic buildings that have mostly become jewelry stores.   Despite the omnipresent tourist angle, we found Skagway quaint and charming.  While there were plenty of Diamonds International and the like, we found lots of stores run by locals with local crafts and foods that held out attention.

Besides the commercial aspect of Skagway, the beautiful mountainous surroundings were astounding.  

Since we were docked in Skagway until 8pm, we spent our day meandering around town, enjoying what it had to offer.  There is no doubt the fact Skagway was our last port of call in Alaska played a role in compelling us to spend as much time as we could on shore to soak it all in.

As afternoon turned to evening, we returned to our ship for a quiet evening of dinner, drinks and some much needed rest.

Tomorrow we are scheduled to visit Tracy Arm Fjord, although the Captain printed a notice in our Cruise Compass that the ice flow has been “limiting” and that the Captain will make a decision tomorrow as to which approach and glacier will be safest to see.  

Stray Observations

  • In both Juneau and Skagway, Radiance of the Seas has been docked in port with us and in both ports they have had the dock spot that is closer to town. 
  • The shuttle between the pier area and downtown Skagway costs $2 per person, per ride, although an all-day unlimited pass costs $5.
  • Having two staterooms on this cruise has been so nice with the kids.  It allows them to sleep when we are getting ready in the morning or winding down at night, and the extra bathroom is tremendous.
  • The forecast was for the high temperature to be in the low 50s today, but it felt significantly warmer than that.  So much so I ended up wearing a t-shirt for most of the day.

Explorer of the Seas Live Blog - Day 3 - Juneau, Alaska

By: Matt Hochberg

Spoiler alert: today was an amazing day.

Our first port stop brings us to Juneau, Alaska and I had such high hopes for today that I just could not sleep this morning.  I woke up around 6am and just had to get up and check out the scenery.

We were not scheduled to dock in Juneau until noon, but the voyage in takes a few hours and we got out first look at what Alaska is all about.

In the time it took to get to Juneau, you could see plenty of islands, landmasses and occasional wildlife.    It was also chilly in the morning, and the jackets came out quickly.  Regardless of the temperature, it was incredible to see the Alaskan landscape after all these months of waiting.

Our ship docked perhaps a bit early and we met up with our shore excursion group at the end of the dock right on time.  

We had booked the Alaskan sled dog excursion, which was essentially half lesson on dog sledding and half play with dogs.

My biggest problem with group excursions is the pace of the event being too slow, but this excursion went quite well.  They broke up the group, with some going on a dog sled first and the others meeting some of the dogs.  Everyone then met up at the end to play with the puppies.

We started off with the dog sled race, where we boarded a dog sled on wheels and had a real dog sled team take us down a course in the area.

 It was incredible to see the whole team of dogs working in tandem and it was a lot fun racing around the corners of the course and seeing how fast they could get up to.

After the race, we got to meet the dogs. We started off with the dogs that took us on our race, meeting each pair of dogs that were part of the team.

The piece de resistance had to be the puppies.  They had a few different puppies of various ages including some puppies that were just a few weeks old.  My wife and kids were in heaven!

At just about two hours, the dog sled excursion was the perfect amount of time.  Of course, my wife would have preferred a few more hours playing with the puppies but we all had a great time interacting with the dogs of all ages.

The excursion bus dropped us off downtown (we had the choice of going downtown or back to the ship), so we found a cab waiting and hopped on to go to Mendenhall Glacier Park. The taxi ride over was about $35 each way plus the admission cost to the park (plus a pit stop at McDonalds for the kids).

Since it was later day and we did not want to push things with the kids, we decided to take the relatively short trail to Nugget Falls, which provides not only an upclose view of a really large water fall, but also a fantastic view of Mendenhall Glacier.

For me, coming to the glacier and seeing nature in all of its glory was worth every penny and hour on the airplane.  It was simply incredible, and I wish I could have just sat down in a beach chair and took in the view. 

Afternoon turned to evening and we had to head back to the ship. Unfortunately we did not have time to visit downtown Juneau and take in the food and culture there, but it was an incredible day.

Back onboard Explorer of the Seas, we got the kids up to Adventure Ocean and then grabbed a quick drink in the Concierge Lounge before heading down to dinner.

It was 70’s night on the Royal Promenade but we were pretty darn tired and have an early day tomorrow, so called it a night.

Tomorrow we will be in Skagway, Alaska.

Stray Observations

  • Weather wise, it was downright frigid on our balcony sailing into Juneau.  Once on land, it felt fine and by the time we reached Mendenhall I took my fleece jacket off.  
  • In terms of wildlife, we saw a whale, a few bald eagles, a beaver and no bears.
  • We got invited to the Crown and Anchor Society event later in the cruise.  The challenge for me is to remember the day and time.
  • Interestingly enough, this was the first night of any cruise I have ever been on where there was no production show or comedy show or any event in the theater tonight.  Sure, there was the 70s party on the Promenade, but I cannot recall ever seeing nothing in the theater at all (not counting embarkation day).

Explorer of the Seas Live Blog - Day 2 - Sea Day

By: Matt Hochberg

Our first full day on Explorer of the Seas brings us to a sea day.  One of the general themes of going on an Alaska cruise has to be adjusting to the Pacific Time Zone.  We still had lingering effects of the jet lag and woke up around 8:30am, while the kids woke up closer to 9am.  For our kids, that is super late.

Upon waking up, we got ready and headed up to the Windjammer for breakfast.  I found an Indian breakfast potato dish that was pretty darn good.

After breakfast we dropped off our youngest daughter at Adventure Ocean and then headed up to the Concierge Lounge for coffee.  

As Diamond Plus members in Crown and Anchor Society, we are allowed to go into the Concierge Lounge (along with the Diamond lounge).  The Concierge Lounge is on the same deck as our stateroom and very close, in fact.

Our morning consisted of walking around the ship a bit and taking it all in. The weather today was mostly sunny, with some passing clouds and by the afternoon it was downright balmy.  If you happened to be out in the sun, it felt quite nice.  

For lunch, we decided on the main dining room.   The main dining room opened at noon and there was a sizeable line that developed.  We did see there was a special entrance reserved for Diamond and Diamond Plus members that allowed us to get in quite quickly.  

Overall the food for lunch was great and I ordered a Morroccan lamb dish along with a turkey burger.

Our first group cruise event was in the Viking Crown Lounge at Dizzy’s.  

Our friends at MEI Travel organized a welcome party, complete with complimentary alcoholic drinks, appetizers and a Royal Caribbean Blog cake!

We had a great view of the ocean, along with a few whale sightings too!

(No whale pictured here, but it was definitely scenic)

Following that meet, we rolled into the next meet, which was the pub crawl.  We visited four bars: Crown & Kettle Pub, Schooner Bar, R-Bar and Sky Bar.  I can tell you from personal experience it was a lot of fun “exploring” all of these venues.

After the pub crawl, a few of us headed to Izumi to grab a pre-dinner sushi roll.  I went with a bowl of miso soup and yellowtail roll roll. Perfect post-pub crawl meal!

Tonight was formal night, so we all got ready.  I took the kids to get a couple of photos taken on the Royal Promenade and then dinner at Cafe Promenade.

After dropping the kids off at Adventure Ocean, I enjoyed some pre-dinner cocktails at the Diamond Lounge, which was not too crowded at all.

Dinner tonight was in the main dining room.

After dinner, some of us in the group went to the Pub to enjoy some classic bar songs.

Tomorrow is our first port day at Juneau.

Stray Observations

  • Weather wise, the day started off quite chilly but by the afternoon if you were in the sun it really felt quite nice. The high temperature for today was listed at 54 degrees.
  • The internet has been hit or miss on this sailing.  Last night, it was barely functional but I found a lot more success today.  The key I have found is to go to places where others are not, and/or just keep trying until it goes through.  
  • The pub layout on this ship is quite odd.  There's essentially a large triangle shaped bar in the middle of the pub, instead of the bar being along the back wall.


Explorer of the Seas Live Blog - Day 1 - Embarkation Day

By: Matt Hochberg

Cruise day is here and that means our Explorer of the Seas Alaskan adventure is set to begin!

Falling asleep last night was pretty easy for us.  We struggled to stay up “late” so that we could acclimate ourselves to Pacific Time, but by about 9pm or so we called it a night. I woke up at about 5am, but managed to get back to sleep a few times until finally getting up at 7am.

We grabbed a quick breakfast from our hotel.  Holiday Inn Express offers a pretty decent breakfast and it certainly gave everyone just enough to get going.

Our group organized a shuttle to take us to the port, which was a 15 minute or so drive to the port.  

The Port of Seattle had two ships in port today, Explorer of the Seas and Celebrity Solstice. It was different to have everyone essentially drop off in the same spot and then diverge to whichever ship you are going on after being dropped off.

We checked in and it was fairly standard, although they were unable to locate our SeaPass cards so they had to print out new ones.  A few minutes later we were on our way.

What was truly odd was after we got our SeaPass cards, they just let everyone board at the same time.  From what I could see there was no boarding process by groups or Crown and Anchor Society.  I believe others that arrived earlier than we did were seated by group, but by the time we checked-in, we headed straight onboard.

We were onboard and at the pool deck by 11am.  The Windjammer was not open until 11:30am, so we enjoyed a crisp, but enjoyable day outside.  It was mostly cloudy and temperatures in the mid-60s.

Once the Windjammer opened, it was time for embarkation day lunch and one of my favorite moments of the cruise.   I love the feeling of being in the Windjammer on embarkation day with the entire cruise ahead of me and lots of great food to enjoy.

After lunch we went up to Adventure Ocean to register the kids.  The set up was very similar to other Voyager and Freedom Class ships, but the layout and decorating choices were noticeably different.

The rooms were ready right at 1pm.  We have two rooms for this cruise, a Junior Suite (for me and my wife) and a connecting balcony room for the kids.

The Junior Suite enjoys a lot of space in the living area, and it was nice to have not only a sofa but two chairs as well.  

Our room is on the “hump” and perhaps that is why the balcony is as “enclosed” as it looks.  

Overall, it looks like a great place to call home.

At 2pm, we held our first meet up onboard of the Royal Caribbean Blog group cruise, the “Go with the flow Lava Flow meet”.   Basically, an excuse to enjoy drinks together at the Viking Crown Lounge at the top of the ship.  It is an opportunity to meet everyone and see old friends once again.  

Muster drill came up quickly and following that, we all headed up to the pool deck to enjoy sail away.  The weather was much warmer than I was expecting.  The forecasts called for a high of 68 degrees today, but it felt like it was in the 70s.  Either way, a beautiful scene for bidding adieu to Seattle.

We got back to our room and found our luggage waiting for us and took the time to put things away before taking the kids to grab dinner.  On embarkation day, Adventure Ocean opens at 8pm instead of the usual 7pm.

We took the kids up to the Windjammer for dinner, followed by dropping them off at Adventure Ocean.  A very smooth process and after dropping them off, we headed down to the main dining room for dinner.

The main dining room menu on Explorer of the Seas is still the “old menu” (prime rib night).

I was impressed by the speed of our waiters on embarkation day, which is usually a slower day.  Moreover, our waiter was able to not only bring savory bites upon request but I actually got a serving of Indian curry instead of having to wait for tomorrow.  

After dinner, we grabbed a drink at the Pub before heading over to the theater to seethe adult comedy show.  The comedian was pretty good and better than I was expecting.

We decided to grab the kids and call it a night. Adjusting to west coast time has been going better than I expected so far.

Stray Observations

  • There was a secondary buffet option in one deck of the main dining room.
  • The no more plastic straws policy is in effect.
  • No surpriise, but the sun really did not go down until maybe 9 or 10pm.  Everyone tells you about it, but it is still quite a phenomenon to witness.

Royal Caribbean offering up to 30% off on pre-cruise purchases this weekend

By: Matt Hochberg

Royal Caribbean's Sun's Out Sale's On pre-cruise purchase sale begins today, with up to 30% off pre-cruise purchases made this weekend.

Offer applies to select sailings departing July 1, 2018 - December 31, 2018. Discount amount varies by amenity type.

The weekend Cruise Planner sale promises savings on certain shore excursions and drink package purchases.  Guests can check which discounts, if any, are available for their upcoming sailing by visiting the Cruise Planner site. Keep in mind that not all sailings may see the sale applicable, nor are all offers significantly cheaper than previously posted.

Based on the countdown timer, the sale will expire at midnight on Sunday night.

If you spot a better discount on something you already pre-purchased, you should be able to cancel the purchase and then re-purchase the same item under this promotion.

Friday Photos

By: Matt Hochberg

When the calendar says it is Friday, that is when we share our readers' favorite Royal Caribbean cruise photos.

Nikki Nothstein starts us off with this photo of Allure of the Seas and Anthem of the Seas docked in San Juan at dusk.

Here is a photo by Alex Trakhtenberg from the port of Kotor.

Lindy took this photo from Labadee with Independence of the Seas in the background.

Here is a look at the New Years Eve celebration on the Royal Esplanade, taken by Jorge Toache.

Linda Baril took this photo from Oasis of the Seas while at Labadee.

We wrap up with this photo of Vision of the Seas and Rhapsody of the Seas in Cozumel, taken by John Bamber.

That's it for this week's edition of Friday Photos. You can always share your favorite cruise photos with us by sending them in via this form.

Have a great weekend!

Explorer of the Seas Live Blog - Seattle Pre-Cruise Day

By: Matt Hochberg

We got up super early to kick start our Explorer of the Seas cruise.  We were travelling from Orlando, Florida to Seattle, Washington and picked an early morning flight to maximize our time in Seattle on the first day.  The downside of a 7:20am flight is you have to wake up pretty early in the morning.

In the grand scheme of 4am wake ups, things went quite smoothly and we were on the road on time and headed to park our car near the Orlando airport.   The parking lot shuttle took us to the airport, which I found to be much busier at 5am on a Thursday than I expected.

We were flying Delta, primarily because they offer a direct flight between Orlando and Seattle. In fact, we managed to get a pretty good deal on first class tickets for the four of us roundtrip.  When I say good deal, I mean it was a rate I could live with and to me, it was worth splurging for a vacation of this magnitude.

Check-in was a breeze and one of the many benefits of flying first class is we were able to completely bypass the security line, which in essence was like having TSA Pre-Check.

We got through security and to the gate without much fuss.  The flight was on time and we were in our seats, ready for a great flight to Seattle.

In all honesty, I am petrified of flying.  I never enjoy it and it gives me Oasis class sized anxiety.  However, the flight was pretty darn smooth and uneventful.  Moreover, having the extra space and complimentary perks of first class really started off our vacation on a positive note.

We landed in Seattle about 20 minutes or so early, and collected our luggage (which came out first since we were in first class) in minutes.  We used Lyft to get us from the airport to our hotel in downtown Seatle.  We upgraded to the Lyft Plus to get a larger vehicle, and yes, we brought our own car seats.  Lugging around car seats is no fun, but having them means we can take advantage of so many more transportation options.  Cost of the Lyft ride was $59 (with gratuity).

We are staying at the Holiday Inn Express & Suites City Center and got ourselves a King Suite room.  Sounds fancy, but it just means we have a door between our bedroom and the living room where the kids sleep.

The room was not ready so we left the luggage in the room and wandered down to the Pike Place Market for lunch and browsing.  

Pike Place Market is a gargantuan farmers market that features a lot of fresh seafood.  It is probably best known for two things: the original Starbucks location and the people that throw the fish.

We had lunch at a nice little diner near the market and then walked the market to check it out.  Quite nice, although it really benefits you if you can buy fresh seafood, produce or flowers to take home.

Our room was ready, so we headed back to the hotel to take a rest.  We purposefully avoided napping because the best way to adjust to a big time change is just adopt the local time zone and go with it.

Our hotel room is a pretty typical Holiday Inn hotel room.  Clean, well-maintained and somewhat recently updated. Great for a pre-cruise stay.

I ventured out while the kids relaxed to exchange our Seattle CityPass voucher for tickets.  We purchased a CityPass months prior to a price hike and it gets us into a half dozen popular tourist spots, including the Space Needle, harbor tour and aquarium.  We will use these after our cruise in the few days we are staying in Seattle for post-cruise.

I also took an opportunity to get an up-close look at the Space Needle.

For dinner, our friends from MEI Travel hosted a pre-cruise pizza party in the lobby of our hotel. We figured since a lot of the people in the group cruise were already here, we would spring for some pizza to enjoy and say hello before getting onboard.

As a pizza snob, the local pizza was not half bad! A good and fulfilling time was had by all.

By about 7pm, we were all pretty tired because of the time difference and waking up so early.  We headed back to the room to relax in preparation for our big day tomorrow headed to the port!

Tomorrow morning, we will head to the port and board Explorer of the Seas and start our cruise adventure!

Mariner of the Seas arrives in PortMiami following $120 million makeover

By: Matt Hochberg

Royal Caribbean's Mariner of the Seas arrived to her new home at PortMiami today after a $120 million upgrade that added new thrills, restaurants, staterooms and entertainment.

Mariner of the Seas will offer short getaway cruises with 4-night weekday and 3-night weekend cruises from Miami to The Bahamas. Her entrance to the short cruise market radically changes the dynamic of what a weekend cruise can offer. Giving millennial travelers more ways to play, the ship’s short itineraries pack more adventure than ever with Sky Pad, a virtual reality, bungee trampoline experience; the cruise line’s first Polynesian-inspired, tiki-chic bar, The Bamboo Room; glow-in-the-dark laser tag, racer waterslides and more.

Royal Caribbean added a lot of new features to Mariner of the Seas, including:

  • Sky Pad – The gravity-defying bungee trampoline experience amped up with virtual reality
  • The Perfect Storm – A thrilling pair of three-story-high racer waterslides called Cyclone and Typhoon
  • Laser Tag: Battle for Planet Z – An epic glow-in-the-dark battle for the last planet in the galaxy
  • Escape Room: The Observatorium – Royal Caribbean’s newest escape room challenge
  • FlowRider – The cruise line’s signature 40-foot-long surf simulator, perfect for hanging ten
  • The Bamboo Room – A laidback Polynesian watering hole with a throwback vibe and kitschy-cool craft cocktails like the Island Old Fashioned and Tiki Tea – the first in Royal Caribbean’s fleet
  • Playmakers Sports Bar & Arcade – For fans watching their home team on one of more than 25 TV screens, making their own legendary plays at the arcade, or refueling on game-day favorites
  • Jamie’s Italian – Serving fresh, handmade and rustic Italian fare by Chef Jamie Oliver, one of Britain’s most famous food exports
  • Izumi Hibachi and Sushi – Asian-inspired dining featuring hibachi, sushi and sashimi and more – made to order with authentic flavors, the freshest ingredients and impeccable presentation

Mariner of the Seas will welcome guests for the first time on Monday, June 25, as it sets sail on a 4-night cruise to The Bahamas. The newly reimagined ship will continue to offer 4-night weekday and 3-night weekend itineraries from Miami, with visits to Nassau and CocoCay. Beginning May 2019, Mariner will sail to the new Perfect Day at CocoCay, the first destination in Royal Caribbean’s recently announced collection of private island experiences around the world.

Mariner of the Seas is the second ship in Royal Caribbean's fleet to undergo the Royal Amplified program, which is a $900 million commitment to reimagine its fleet.

First look at the changes and additions Royal Caribbean has made to Mariner of the Seas

By: Matt Hochberg

Royal Caribbean's Mariner of the Seas arrived in Miami this morning following a massive bow-to-stern upgrade and we have a glimpse of the new changes the cruise line made.

Mariner of the Seas now boasts the Sky Pad, a first-of-its-kind virtual reality bungee trampoline experience at sea, glow-in-the-dark laser tag, a tiki-chic lounge and a wide range of dining experiences.

Mariner of the Seas recently underwent $120 million revitalization that includes bold, new features and experiences. Mariner will offer exciting 3- and 4-night cruises to from PortMiami to The Bahamas, giving thrill seekers a break from their ordinary routine and adding adventure to their weekends.

Mariner of the Seas is the second Royal Caribbean cruise ship to be upgraded as part of the Royal Amplified program that will add new features to the Oasis, Freedom and Voyager Class ships.

Explorer of the Seas Cruise Preview on Royal Caribbean Blog Podcast

By: Matt Hochberg

Hey everyone! Episode 255 of the Royal Caribbean Blog Podcast is now available for your listening pleasure.

This week, we're sharing the details about our cruise on Explorer of the Seas to Alaska along with many Royal Caribbean Blog readers! This seven-night adventure has lots of fun packed in, and Matt shares why he picked this itinerary, plans for onboard and onshore and some new things he will try on this sailing.

Be sure to also check out our pre-cruise summary of what Matt's plans are for the cruise and for how you can read the live blog each day from the cruise.

Here’s the podcast page for Episode 255. And don’t forget to subscribe to the podcast via RSS or on iTunes!

Take a listen and as always, let us know what you think! Please rate and review the podcast on iTunes and leave your comments below!