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Explorer of the Seas…Changes

The Explorer of the Seas will be going in for a major refurbishing after Royal Caribbean introduces Quantum of the Seas near the end of 2014. 

Having been on Explorer of the Seas, we have five unsolicited suggestions on what to change — and five on what not to change — when this beautiful, 13-year-old ship gets a facelift.

What not to change:

1. Stairway of the Stars: As artwork on ships goes, this is fascinating for our demographic. It was not just photos and artifacts of "stars" like Bruce Springsteen, the McCartneys and The Rolling Stones, it was also items like a self-portrait by Peter Falk and paintings by Herb Alpert.

2. Promenade: It's not likely to change much because it's a staple on Royal Caribbean ships now and it (almost) always gives you an idea exactly where you are on the ship, and it exposes the heart of the ship from several perches on the floors above.

3. Ice Rink: Having an ice rink on a cruise ship is cool and, besides being a double-entendre, that makes it unique in the industry.

4. Quality of food and servers: We ate in the main "My Time" dining room every night on this 9-day cruise…because that's where we wanted to be. The servers — Tankica Gogova and Vivek Golsalves — became friends and the head waiter (Balachandran Sankaranutty) was exceptional. The food was so good we didn't dare take a chance on missing the new items each night.

5. A changing day-of-the-week inserted in carpet in elevator: Hey, it's a small thing, but doesn't everybody forget what day it is when you're on a cruise?

What to change:

1. Spanish omelette on the breakfast menu in the dining room: This creation is eggs, potatoes and onion…no ham, no peppers, no spices. Even in Spain, they call that a potato omelette. One of the staff said "Don't have it" — too late.

2. Room 9514, and any others like it: This room is directly below the bridge, on the starboard side, which is fine. It has an ocean-view window and if you walk over to take a look at the view, anybody over five feet tall is certain to bump your head on the curved ceiling.

3. Internet: Always an issue on cruise ships, this one only had hot spots and, in this day and age, having it everywhere on the ship is becoming the common practice. As an aside, and this doesn't apply just to Explorer of the Seas, don't you wonder if cruise staff who depend on Internet connections, too, have the same slow speed as passengers who pay 75 cents a minute? Just wondering…

4. Televisions: This is certainly a no-brainer, because almost nobody has what one Explorer staffer said his daughter called "fat TVs" nowadays. The fat shall become flat. However, when the renovators get rid of the old TVs, they should make sure that access to CNN doesn't go with them.

5. Window tables for two: For those of us who enjoy "My Time Dining" and who enjoy each other's company because cruising is not a mission to make new friends, getting stuck under a staircase or against the back wall at every meal is unacceptable when there are many tables for four not being used by the windows.


Royal Caribbean Rhapsody of the Seas
7 nights
July 7, 2013
Seattle (return): Juneau, Skagway, Tracy Arm, Victoria
Inside: $799
Cost per day: $114
www.royalcaribbean.com

The Queen, Olympics and…Breakaway?

The Norwegian Breakaway arrives in Bermuda today, its first port on its first cruise, and we're hoping Richard Janicki is on the ship.

Who's Richard Janicki?

He is a Norwegian employee, a hotel director, whom we happened to meet when we were last on the Epic. He's an interesting guy and — here's the reason we hope he's on the Breakaway as expected — he has paid his dues.

Interesting?

As a boy in France, he wanted to work in a hotel. He did, and cooked twice for Queen Elizabeth II…the woman, not the ship. His surname sounds as French as Wilson or Smith or Jones and he lives in his "paradise" — Greece. He has worked, as a volunteer, at seven Olympic Games.

Is that interesting enough?

"Usually, the boys, they want to be a firemen, you know," says Janicki, who was scheduled to work on the Breakaway's inaugural cruise this week. "I always wanted to work in the hotel industry when I was a kid…cooking and all that. You are quite fortunate when you are young and you know want you want to do."

Fortunate, later, to work at the Berkeley Hotel in London.

"I was a chef there," he says. "I cooked for the Queen of England twice. I make one dish for her…lobster salad. She just came for dinner. She was on a night out with her husband, that's all it was. Not formal. She was out on a date. The second time, the hotel was celebrating its 21st birthday and when you reach 21 years of age in England, it's a big deal. We brought in chefs from around the world during the year and on that week it was Chef Miko Lee from Tokyo and since he spoke more French than English, I was assigned to work with him the entire week, and she came the second time to eat from the menu of Chef Miko Lee."

Working at the Berkeley was one circumstance that would shape Janicki's career. The Olympics was another, beginning in Albertville, with the Winter Games of 1992.

"They were looking for volunteers and I applied," says Janicki, who has worked on cruise ships for 17 years, the last 13 with Norwegian.  "My sister and my brother were in Lens, and they volunteered. At the Olympics, I worked for a group that catered to VIPs, in hospitality. You learn a lot of things there. Cooking was my major but I worked in dining rooms and bars, a lot of logistics…accounting, because you need to learn about these things. You never know if you're going to work on a cruise ship one day or if you're going to own your own restaurant, so you need to be a good accountant, too."

After Albertville, there were Summer Games in Barcelona (1992), Atlanta (1996) and Athens (2004), and Winter Games in Lillehammer (1994), Nagano (1998) and Torino (2006). Some of those experiences surface on cruise ships today.

He elaborates this way:

"Sometimes I explain to the crew when things have to happen right now…it's like a 100-meter race. They have billions of people watching on TV, and more in the stadium, and the race is going to happen right now. So the guy with the gun who starts the race, the gun has to work. And the guy with the chrono, the chrono has to work because it takes less than 10 seconds, and you don't have a re-take, like a movie.

"When guests come on the cruise, they save money all their life to buy a cruise for their anniversary or they're honeymooners, and it's their first time cruising. It's irrelevant how good we were the cruise before, or how good we're going to be for the cruise the next week. We have to be good for them right now, because that's their time — right now. And people will judge you on that because it's their cruise right now. You cannot spoil that and say, 'Well, sorry, we'll do better next time.'"

This week, that means the Breakaway's inaugural guests.


Holland America Zaandam
7 nights
June 2, 2013
Anchorage, Glacier Bay, Haines, Juneau, Ketchikan, Vancouver
Inside: $299
Cost per day: $42
www.hollandamerica.com

Cruise Ships and the Naked Truth

As the industry has grown, cruise lines have had to be creative in maximizing the capacity of their ships. It’s really no different than baseball teams that use promotions to fill ballparks. Get the customers on board, even at discounted prices, and let the profits come from what they spend at the hot-dog stand, in the casino, buying beer, getting spa treatments, and so on.

One of the strategies they’ve employed, in a wide range of ways, is the well-known “theme cruise.”

Today’s question is: When does a theme cruise go too far?

There are music cruises, gay cruises, literary cruises, sports cruises, religion cruises…and now comes the big one: nude cruises. And if you don’t think they’re popular, there are websites (now there’s a surprise!) devoted to nude cruises, as you can see by the photo.

Not that we’ve ever been on one, any more than we have been at a nude beach, but we presume there is a certain amount of decorum exercised by the participants. However, is that enough?

The problem is with crew members. Many of them are from countries like Indonesia, the Philippines and parts of Africa, where much of the population has strong religious convictions…convictions which don’t tolerate nudity. As such, crew members who serve on nude cruises (it’s really just part of a ship, usually) are put in what can best be uncomfortable situations. We’ve been told of crew members who refused to work on nude cruises.

In the end, that’s probably the answer. Allow them to refuse to go, but are cruise lines willing to let them break a contract for reasons of nudity?

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