When Capt. Rick Sullivan docked Explorer of the Seas at Ogden Point last Tuesday, he wasn’t cruising into just any port-of-call.
It was a homecoming for the mariner who once lived in James Bay and briefly helmed the bygone Royal Sealink Express catamaran to Vancouver.
“I love this!” said the affable captain on the bridge of Royal Caribbean International’s massive, Voyager-class cruise ship or, as one wag described it “Victoria’s tallest building.”
The ship, fresh from a 25-day voyage from Sydney, Australia, to Seattle, with Lahaina, Hawaii, as its last stop, was easy to dock despite its magnitude, Sullivan said.
“Although this is larger than Rhapsody of the Seas, it’s actually twice as manoeuvrable so I didn’t have any issues backing up,” he said. “I’ve come in and out of here so many times.”
There was much to marvel at during a tour of the sleek, super-sized floating resort that measures 1,020 feet long, has 15 decks, three pools, six whirlpools and room for 3,835 passengers and 1,185 crew.
“This is why we look so skinny and sexy,” quipped Wim Van der pas, the ship’s colourful Dutch-born food and beverage director before taking guests for a long walk from stern to bow.
The walkabout followed an onboard reception attended by Esquimalt Nation Chief Andy Thomas, Songhees Nation liaison Florence Dick, Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps, Greater Victoria Harbour Authority CEO Ian Robertson and COO Sonterra Ross, and Western Stevedoring’s general manager John Briant and Samantha Rosindell.
Highlights included the plush 1,362-capacity Palace Theatre, where dancers could be found rehearsing for the glitzy show Wild, Cool and Swingin’; the Casino Royale, featuring a glass floor chockful of gold coins and other treasures, and the dazzling Royal Promenade shopping boulevard, where colossal marble structures magnify the wow factor.
“Hello, young sir!” said Van der pas to a geriatric passenger while showing off restaurants such as Giovanni’s trattoria, Royal Caribbean’s signature Chops steakhouse and Windjammer Cafe. There were also sneak previews of some of its 15 clubs and lounges, including the Connoisseur Cigar Club, Crown & Kettle Pub, Schooner Piano Bar and Dizzy’s Jazz Club, dominated by a striking Dizzy Gillespie sculpture.
Other amenities include a rock climbing wall, miniature golf course, spa, skating rink, basketball court, 3-D cinema, a stunning rooftop pool deck and the FlowRider surf simulator.
“This is actually a murder weapon, OK?” joked Van der pas, removing a polished, baseball bat-like “war club” from its perch in Sullivan’s luxurious office on the ship’s high-security bridge.
“Yeah, that’s why I keep it my office,” deadpanned Sullivan, who received it as a gift from Vanuatu natives during a traditional welcoming ceremony in the South Pacific island nation.
The Explorer’s off-limits bridge itself is an eye-catcher -- an expansive, high-tech seaview control centre that brings the Starship Enterprise to mind, albeit with a nautical twist.
“Despite what you see, it’s not all done by computers,” said Sullivan, explaining the ship’s propulsion system and how he manually moves controls, including four bow-thrusters with 4,000 horsepower apiece.
“It’s about looking out the window, looking at the electrical chart displays and actually hands-on driving,” he said, noting there can be up to eight crew, including navigation officers, on the bridge at one time.
Robertson couldn’t resist the offer to sit in one of the black leather, hydraulic-equipped navigator’s chairs.
“This is like a barber’s chair,” he joked. “Can I have a trim around the ears?”