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!

Royal Caribbean expands triple occupancy staterooms options

By: Matt Hochberg

Royal Caribbean announced to travel agents that it will expand the amount of staterooms across the fleet of ships that offer a capacity of three guests per room with the addition of sofa beds. The cruise line hopes the change will greatly improve the availability of higher occupancy staterooms, particularly beneficial during peak vacation periods such as summer and holidays.

As of June 1, 2018, ten ships in total will have added triple occupancy staterooms.  These ships include

  • Symphony of the Seas
  • Harmony of the Seas
  • Allure of the Seas
  • Oasis of the Seas
  • Independence of the Seas
  • Liberty of the Seas
  • Adventure of the Seas
  • Mariner of the Seas
  • Navigator of the Seas

In order to identify which staterooms have these new sofa beds, deck plans will be updated with the introduction of a "partial triangle" as the symbol to denoate sofa bed staterooms. Digital deck plans were updated on-or-before June 17th, 2018; whereas printed versions of deck plans will be refreshed in advance of the next print run.

Sample deck plan from Mariner of the Seas with sofa bed option showing

Despite the the addition of these sofa beds, Royal Caribbean says the maximum guest counts remain unchanged for each of the impacted ships, "This initiative simply allows the opportunity to further maximize the number of guests on each sailing, as well as offer additional triple staterooms for those in need of higher occupancy accommodations."

Video: Rookie Royal Caribbean mistakes to avoid

By: Matt Hochberg

We hope your week is off to a great start.  We have a brand new Royal Caribbean Blog video to share with you, featuring 10 rookie mistakes to avoid on a Royal Caribbean cruise.

If you are planning your first Royal Caribbean cruise, we think we have some tips that will help you save some time and money to make the most of your vacation. We also included some trip planning strategies to consider when sitting down to plan out your cruise.

Of course, even if you have taken a few Royal Caribbean cruises already, this video could still help you out and better yet, you might be able to share your own planning pitfall to avoid.

And if you love this video, there’s plenty more for you to enjoy over on our Royal Caribbean Blog YouTube Channel!

By the way, have you subscribed yet? Be sure to subscribe to our channel and never miss a single episode!

Live blogging from Explorer of the Seas - Preamble

By: Matt Hochberg

We go on our fair share of Royal Caribbean cruises, so when there is an opportunity to knock something off our bucket list of must-do cruises, it makes the cruise extra special.

After seemingly buying every accessory, specialty apparel, and gadget one might run across while searching for an "Alaska cruise packing list", we are ready to head to Seattle for a 7-night Explorer of the Seas sailing to Alaska.  Going on a sailing that takes to an all-new to us itinerary is pretty special, and on top of it, we are sailing with so many of our friends as part of the Royal Caribbean Blog Group Cruise.

We have been looking forward to this particular sailing for a while, having booked it back in early 2017 at the behest of my wife who really wanted to try an Alaska cruise.  I certainly relished the prospect of heading west and sailing on a completely new itinerary for me.

When you talk about a cruise to Alaska, you are looking at one of the most beautiful places on earth to take visit and cruising is a natural fit. I have probably put off a cruise to Alaska for this long primarily due to the distance required for us to travel (we are flying from Florida), but with my daughters geting old enough to sit on an airplane and remain civil, the time is right to go West.

While the itinerary will be new to us, the ship is a repeat for me.  My very first Royal Caribbean cruise was on Explorer of the Seas out of Cape Liberty in 2006.  Going back on Explorer of the Seas after all these years is a bit of a homecoming for me, and I am looking forward to getting back on her after a large absence.


If you read any kind of blog post, article, infographic, or MySpace post, you will likely see a mention that when you sail to Alaska you must book a balcony room.  It will cost you extra, but it is worthwhile and so I listened to the experts and booked a Junior Suite that connects to a standard balcony for our family. While not as epic is our Grand Suite connecting to a balcony room, it should be a great way to not only see the beautiful Alaskan nature, but also provide separation from our kids at night.

I will be sailing with my wife and two daughters (ages 7 and 3), and my kids are most excited for Adventure Ocean, exploring Alaska, and as much soft serve ice cream they can eat (probably in that order).

Speaking of who I will be sailing with, we have over eighty Royal Caribbean Blog readers joining me on this incredible adventure. Being able to share in the excitement of this sailing and explore Alaska together is an added bonus. As is the case with any Royal Caribbean Blog group cruise, we have one or two events each day of the cruise that everyone is invited to join us for.  These events include a pub crawl, Royal Caribbean trivia, photo safari, private ice skating session and more.

Of course, this is a group cruise too, which means we have a large contingent of fellow Royal Caribbean fans joining me and I could not be happier. There is just something so fun about seeing friendly faces all around the ship, and being able to share in the experience in person is second-to-none.


This Royal Caribbean cruise is by far the most intriguing itinerary I have taken to date. When you cruise to Alaska, Royal Caribbean offers three types of sailings: a round trip, a one way northbound and a one way southbound.  

We chose the roundtrip primarily because I did not have vacation time to do two weeks for both one ways and I was not mentally prepared to fly to or from Alaska.  I understand the argument that the one way sailings offer a superior itinerary, but a roundtrip from Seattle is what is in the cards for us this go around and I think it will be a great introduction to Alaska.

Our shore excursion plans

Here is what we have planned for each of our ports.  We spent a lot of time looking over the various choices and came up with these.

3. Alaska Sled Dogs & Musher's Camp (Juneau) [Link]

My wife insisted we do some sort of excursion that involved Alaskan husky dogs (preferably puppies), so we picked this 2 hour trip.  Besides involving super cute puppies, we think our daughters will enjoy going to the countryside and getting a first-hand look at what Alaska is all about.

We will have some extra time in Juneau after the excursion is over, and may hop into a taxi to visit the Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center and do some "light weight" exploring.

2. Yukon Hummer Adventure (Skagway) [Link]

I thought this excursion sounded like a really fun one, primarily because it allows us to see a lot of beautiful areas in Alaska and Canada from the comfort of a Hummer.  I have always wanted to drive one of these cars, so I think this is perfect opportunity.  

One caveat is this excursion states my youngest daughter is not allowed to come with us.  I am not entirely certain why and we are guessing it may have to do with car seats.  We will talk with the Shore Excursion staff onboard Explorer of the Seas and get a better sense of what the issue is all about.

1. Craigdarroch Castle And Butchart Garden (Victoria) [Link]

It seems like the two places to visit in Victoria are Butchart Garden and Craigdarroch Castle, so we booked the excursion that brings us to both.  I am slightly concerned my children will be bored by the pace and subject of the tour, but I remain optimistic that they will have a good time...and with a bribe of a present to keep them in line (it's not my first rodeo).

What's next

Our Explorer of the Seas cruise begins on Friday, June 22nd (although we will fly to Seattle a day earlier), and I will be sharing the details on the blog, as well as across my social media channels.  Be sure to follow me on FacebookInstagram and Periscope for live updates throughout the day.

I invite you to share in this experience with me, by posting in the comments for any blog post questions and comments you may have.  I try to make these live blogs as interactive as I can, so I want everyone to feel welcome to share their thoughts.

Thanks for reading all of this and welcome aboard our next fun live blog experience!