So many cruise ships are gracing our shores it must be hard for prospective travellers to choose between them. While some travellers may book a ship purely based on the cruise itinerary, we know our Have Wheelchair Will Travel community is interested in the accessible facilities available on the ship. These are paramount to a comfortable cruise. Last week I shared a review of Royal Caribbean’s Ovation of the Seas and this week I’m reviewing Royal Caribbean’s Explorer of the Seas. Hopefully being able to compare ships will assist you in deciding on which will provide the best accessible cruise for you.
To me the ships are a bit like siblings, similar in many ways but they have their own personalities, positives and negative traits. Royal Caribbean Explorer of the Seas is older than Ovation of the Seas and has a smaller capacity of 3500 passengers.
Before I give you a detailed review of Royal Caribbean Explorer of the Seas, let me take you on a virtual tour. Press play (the arrow) on the video below to take a walk on board with me. You may notice I walk through the restaurant very swiftly, that’s because I was lost and separated from my group. Given I was only on the ship for a couple of hours, I really didn’t have time to lose my group!
ACCESSIBLE JUNIOR SUITE BALCONY CABIN
Walking into cabin 1544, an accessible cabin, I was immediately impressed with the floor to ceiling windows which result in a light-filled room.
The bed has room on either side for transferring from a wheelchair though it is more spacious on the right side of the bed (as you look at it).
I measured approximately 32 cm clearance under the bed for anyone travelling with a hoist.
Although the accessible cabin is substantially more spacious than the non-accessible cabins but the amount of furniture in the room makes it a little cluttered. If a passenger doesn’t need the additional lounge chairs I’d suggest asking cruise staff to remove some to make the circulation space greater.
The bathroom in the accessible cabin is spacious and well equipped to make cruising comfortable for all abilities.
Grab rails surround the shower and toilet. The shower is equipped with a flip-down shower seat and height adjustable hand-held shower located beside the seat but still a little out of reach unless organised prior to showering. The height of the toilet is approximately 48cm from the ground to the seat.
The bathroom sink has room beneath it for a wheelchair user to have easy access and it’s equipped with lever taps.
The spare towels were the only items out of reach for a wheelchair user.
I was thrilled to see such a large walk-in wardrobe and storage space in the accessible cabin. This is so handy for passengers travelling with more than one wheelchair, a hoist or shower chair/commode. How wonderful to be able to store any equipment not being used out of the way. This is a well thought out feature of this cabin. Something we would value as a family travelling with lots of luggage.
Within the cabin the amenities are all located at a wheelchair users height with a handle installed in the wardrobe which lowers the clothing rack.
The balcony is accessed via a sliding door and a small ramp.
Although there are plenty of chairs and lounges on the decks I’d enjoy having my own space to enjoy the unobstructed views.
Royal Caribbean Explorer of the Seas has many entertainment options but I have no doubt the pool and decks are particularly popular.
In the speed tour I was given I only managed to find one pool chair hoist and an older one at that (see photo below).
The staff told me this pool seat only accesses the pool not the spa.
When I’ve spoken to people about the cruises they have been on, they’ve raved about the wonderful ice skating shows. I know my ice-skating mad AJ would love to see the show and take a twirl on the ice herself. It didn’t look like wheelchairs would be able to go on to the ice with the height of the barrier entrances.
The theatre has an area reserved for wheelchair users and their companions and I was advised it is available on both levels of the theatre.
The casino is large and spacious with a variety of options available to guests.
For sports lovers there’s a large basketball court and rock climbing wall to use up energy.
BJ would love playing table tennis and mini-golf, though the course may be challenging with his wheelchair.
The Flowrider again takes pride of place on this ship giving guests the chance to test their balance skills or just watch on for entertainment.
ACTIVITIES FOR ALL ABILITIES
The Royal Caribbean Adventure Ocean program was not operating when I toured as passengers were still boarding but I did pick up their program information leaflet. It contained information about what they offer and I was particularly interested in their “Autism Friendly Programming”. Adventure Ocean offers a bag of autism-friendly toys for families to play with in their stateroom. The toys were specially selected to keep children with autism and other development disabilities happy and engaged. The Adventure Ocean program also offers activities for children of all abilities. They encourage families to consult with the Adventure Ocean staff regarding any special needs so they are able to identify which activities are appropriate for their child and any possible modifications. Autism Friendly Activities are marked on the program.
In saying that, Royal Caribbean International have a “Diaper policy” that all children must be 3 years old and fully toilet trained to participate in Adventure Ocean activities. On the program they note “according to United States Public Health, Adventure Ocean is a diaper and pull-up free area.” This impacts the participation of many children with special needs who are not toilet trained.
It’s great to see some Family Time activities listed which are hosted by cruise and sport staff with the whole family encouraged to participate. These include a family scavenger hunt, family art, family science, family trivia, family dance party and more.
ACCESSIBLE BATHROOM FACILITIES
I was impressed to see stand-alone bathroom facilities in the common areas of the ship. Although I didn’t see a unisex one I’d have no qualms about using a stand-alone bathroom if assisting someone if there wasn’t the option of a unisex facility.
The bathrooms have push button automatic doors, are spacious inside and in all the main areas of the ship.
There’s no shortage of dining options on Royal Caribbean Explorer of the Seas. You can dine in the restaurants which are included in the cruise price, or choose to dine in one of the many specialty restaurants. An additional charge is attached to dining in the specialty restaurants.
At the time of my visit it was an additional USD$9.95 to dine at Johnny Rockets which offers traditional American diner fare including fries, hot dogs and hamburgers.
Unlike Ovation of the Seas, on Explorer of the Seas it isn’t necessary to book restaurants in advance. The only exception is, if you are wanting to celebrate a special occasion or you are travelling as a group, then it is recommended you make a reservation.
Touring around the ship my overall view was that accessibility is good. On most entry and exit points there are automatic opening doors, accessible seating is available in the theatres, there’s good circulation space in the restaurants and ramp access where needed.
I can see the advantages of a smaller capacity ships when it comes to disembarking. Royal Caribbean’s Explorer of the Seas created far less chaos in the way of queues at the terminal in Sydney and it appeared to be much easier to organise a cab.
I was disappointed to only see one pool with a seated hoist entry available. It’s always lovely to have choice like other passengers.
It was good to see the stand alone accessible bathrooms in the common areas of the ship.
Ramp access and accessible seating seemed common throughout the ship.
NAVIGATING YOUR WAY AROUND THE SHIP
I’m sure after a few days on the ship it becomes easier to find your way but on the first day or two I think the touch screen boards would be my go-to. The interactive information board lists activities, restaurants and the daily schedule so all the information guests need is just a tap away.
Pre-plan and save. Once on board the ship all charges are in US dollars. There are savings to be made by pre-paying for items prior to boarding as you will be charged in Australian Dollars and there are sometimes specials available. You can prepay for beverage packages and other activities ahead of time and save. Take a look at the details on the cruise planner.
Guests are encouraged to fill out a Guest Special Needs form to give the staff a better idea of your needs. You can click through to the form here.
You can get a general overview of Royal Caribbean Explorer of the Seas here.
If you’ve sailed on Royal Caribbean Explorer of the Seas we’d love to know your tips or any information you’d like to share with other prospective cruise passengers.
If you’ve read this review and you’re ready to pack your backs, then head over to Travel with Special Needs to see our two package deals for cruising on Royal Caribbean Explorer of the Seas. Check out the 9 night South Pacific cruise and our 15 night Sydney to Singapore cruise.