Explorer of the Seas has been the Royal Caribbean's ship in New York
Harbor for five years, sailing year round from Cape Liberty in Bayonne,
New Jersey. During this time, several other cruise lines have
unsuccessfully tried to break into the New York market on a year-round
basis but only Royal and Norwegian Cruise Line have managed to make a
go of it thus far.
"I think it proves that we are doing something right. Every single cruise
regardless of the season, we are sailing totally full. I think our product
is well-received by the market," commented Hotel Director Benny
Weidecker when I sat down with him and Captain Henrik Loy to talk
about Explorer's longevity in a very competitive market.
Part of the reason for Explorer's success is passenger convenience. "If
you live in the area, it is very convenient. Within six hours driving, [the
guests] all drive. They do not have to fly. That's a big thing these days,"
noted Captain Loy.
But any ship based in New York Harbor offers area residents similar
convenience. What is unique to Explorer that differentiates her from the
"I think there are many factors," answered Captain Loy. To begin,
Explorer does not do the same cruise every time she sails from Bayonne.
"We offer 18 different cruises. You have a choice between the five-day
Bermuda or the [Bermuda/Caribbean] longer ones, or the Canada/New
England ones," Captain Loy pointed out. That gives vacationers options
and people like to have a choice.
Another factor, Mr. Weidecker noted, is "the hardware we have is very,
very good. We do have a Royal Promenade that other cruise lines don't
have, which is really unique."
Explorer is also well-suited to her itineraries from a nautical
perspective. "The Voyager class is a tremendously excellent class - - it
has it all" said Captain Loy.
To illustrate, Explorer calls at Bermuda on every cruise except for her
Canada/New England cruises. "To get into Bermuda is tricky and this
class, I would say, is the optimal. You have tremendous ship-handling
and power so you can go in there even in severe weather. Even with the
size - - 138,000 tons, three times the size of the Titanic - - we can still
get up to 15 knots within two or three ship lengths. When it is blowing
hard you need to be able to get up to speed [quickly] and you need to be
able to make hard turns without devastating heeling. Other ships, other
companies, I know they suffer there. When they put over that wheel,
things fall off the table. But this ship is tremendously stable as well - -
so many good qualities."
Of course, the success of a cruise ship depends to a great extent upon
what is done with the hardware. "I think we have very good food. The
guests love our entertainment. They rate us very well. They love our
bands, the live music," said Mr. Weidecker.
But Royal Caribbean is not content just to rest on its laurels. Captain Loy
explained: "The focus now is on the friendliness, that aura, the
atmosphere, [forming] a connection because that, at the end of the day,
brings people back. We have an average of fifty percent repeat guests.
They come back to the Explorer again and again and they connect with
our crew and form bonds. I think that is pretty special. We stay here all
year-round; we don't go from here to here to here. The guests really
connect with us."
Mr. Weidecker elaborated: "Not just Explorer of the Seas but our whole
company is focused on personalized service. How can we get more
interactive so we can build more relationships with our guests, to make
them have a really memorable vacation experience. I think that through
personalized service is just the right approach. That is what we have
done this year quite successfully according to reports and benchmarks
throughout the fleet."
The Ability To Adapt
Explorer has evolved so as to adapt to the challenges posed by sailing
year-round from New York. "It is something that you become better at,"
explained Captain Loy. "We have been here now for five seasons and
we have got it down to the details. We have become experts on it. The
crew and the officers that you have onboard here really need to be
experienced about it. It is really different than on other ships that are out
of Miami in the Caribbean year-round. The weather factor is huge. You
still provide a service, still keep up to standards, even though you are
facing environmental challenges."
"Happy crew; happy guests. Winter time out of Bayonne, you do not have
happy crew automatically. That really takes extra planning and extra
equipment. I mean how many ships have snow shovels, winter suits,
gloves, mittens, and hats fully stocked so that everyone is always warm?
You really have to look after the crew here for their well-being. It takes
years of experience to get to that. For some other ship to just come in
with a new crew to take over what we are doing, that would be hard. It is
really a result of years of experience here and we only get better and
better at it."
Part of taking care of the crew is giving them opportunities to grow. "For
everyone who is on a career there is always the opportunity to have
shoreside training. They really identify, grow and build upon the talent
that is identified."
Mr. Weidecker added: "I think that is one of the company's strengths
because our crew members recognize that. They see that we have a
hotel director who started as a stateroom attendant. Because he was
interested and he developed himself, the company helped him get there. It
motivates others. There is an opportunity for everybody to make a career
for themselves whatever the career may be."
"I don't know if loyalty means so much anymore worldwide but I think it
is something that we are trying to bring back here - - loyalty not only with
the guests but with the employees," Captain Loy continued. "If you can get
someone in early, create a great first impression and keep building them
up from day one, that pays off in the long run."
Building a happy crew also requires having fun. "The toughest challenge
is [balancing] between work and play and that goes for everybody. You
have to find that balance where you have fun and laugh. We have things
like sandwich days, where we make sandwiches for all of the crew
members; we have our barbeque on the pier - - to have fun, not just drive
and work and work and work."
In addition to the challenges facing the officers and the crew, sailing out
of New York year-round is not easy on the ship either. "It definitely
impacts it with the erosion, with the wind, with the salt, the constant sea
spray in combination with the long cruises. Then in the Caribbean you
have the sun, the UV rays, as any other ship has. But basically, it is the
strong winds and the constant sea spray. In those weather conditions, it
is hard to be out there doing maintenance. Plus, the vibrations, the fatigue
- - you see this in pipes and equipment. It will definitely tire the ship
more rapidly than a ship that is in calm seas all year-round."
"But the company has recognized that. It has put more funds in our
budgets and given us more resources. They have recognized that we are
high maintenance. We have gotten a lot of support for that."
A Postscript about Ocean Lab
When Explorer entered service in 2000 and for several years thereafter,
she hosted a very visible oceanographic research project known as
Ocean Lab. (See article). Scientists from the University of Miami sailed
onboard Explorer and took measurements of the ocean, gathering
scientific data. They also interacted with guests with lectures and
demonstrations. Then it seemed to disappear as the Ocean Lab activities
were no longer in the ship's daily program.
However, Captain Loy explained, the program has not ended. Funding
problems prevent the University from stationing scientists onboard but
"we have the equipment and we still record. They come onboard
regularly to maintain their equipment but they are not here as they were in
the beginning. We are still recording a lot of valuable oceanographic
Above: Explorer of the Seas.
Captain Henrik Loy and Hotel
Director Benny Weidecker discuss
what has made Explorer of the Seas
succeesful in a competitive market.
by Richard H. Wagner
Cruise ship interview - Royal Caribbean - Explorer of the Seas - Captain Henrik Loy and Hotel Director Benny Weidecker
Above: Captain Henrik Loy
Below: Hotel Director Benny Weidecker