Our trip on Royal Caribbean’s Explorer of the Seas recently was a rather rocky ride, and I’m not talking about the waves or weather at sea. So many things went wrong that I won’t even try to recount them in a blog. Let’s just say that if the 80’s Cruise sailed a different line, it would make me a lot happier. Although the 80’s Cruise didn’t suffer these sorts of issues, which leads me to believe that it really is Royal Caribbean’s problems with staffing, production, management/mismanagement, and day-to-day activities that are to blame since all of these things are handled by an outside company for the 80’s Cruise and merely staged on a Royal Caribbean ship each year. 

We had My Time dining reservations at 6:45 p.m. each night, which had been arranged before we got on the ship. 6:45 was the earliest you could reserve My Time Dining for. So, we showed up in plenty of time, took our places in line, and were escorted into the dining room, in what we considered an acceptable amount of time by a young lady who was obviously new and very confused. Lynne and I had requested to eat alone – party of 2, because I relayed to her some of the horror stories that Russ and I had sat through at the hands of other dining partners and had to miss shows, etc., because in a dining party, you all eat your various courses together, no matter how long that takes any individual member to complete. (I was specifically thinking of the gentleman who ordered four appetizers, three entrees, and three desserts, and we finally just got up and left the table because we were so tired of waiting for more food and had missed half of a show that we wanted to see…) The ticket she had said to take us to table 319. In her defense, 319 was half of a 4-party table. She stared at it blankly, then looked at us. There was an empty table for two right behind us and an empty table for two over by the window. Rather than asking her head waiter if she could take us to one of those tables, however, she panicked. And left us standing in the middle of the dining room, hulking over people’s tables while they were eating, with no one telling us what to do, for about ten minutes. It was incredibly embarrassing. When she finally came back to us to tell us that she didn’t know what to do with us, the manager for that section was just walking up to us. He asked her what the problem was. She tried to explain. He could tell that we were a little flustered, that she was beyond lost, and he took care of the situation magnificently. “I see absolutely no problem. I’m only sorry that no one came to me sooner. My name is Ehren,” he introduced himself to us. “I’m in charge of this section. “Come, you will sit at this table by the window with the beautiful view.” It was indeed a beautiful dinner, delicious, decadent, and splendidly served by Jose and Iwayan, our head waiter and assistant waiter. Ehren approached us before dessert ended and invited us back to table 322 each night. He said, “You simply tell them at the front that Ehren says that you will be dining at table 322 each night, and it shall be done, ladies. We will look forward happily to having you with us each night!” Compared to everything else that had transpired for us onboard to that point, we were absolutely astounded, amazed, and enthralled by Ehren. On our way out, I stopped to let Janice, the lady at the host stand know what Ehren had told us, and she snipped back at me, “You’ll eat there if it’s available. If it is not, then you will eat elsewhere!” 

By that time, I was already so tired of dealing with Guest Services, I decided to just let it go. I wasn’t going to fight for a table to eat at. However, when I ended up there three more times, anyway, I finally mentioned it the third time. And, as though I had mentioned nothing other than this issue with the dining room, the gentleman at Guest Services took down my story verbatim, it seemed, and apologized profusely, telling me, “You should never have been spoken to that way, Ms. Peters. I sincerely apologize to you on behalf of our staff. When you go back tonight, you let Janice know that you will be sitting at 322, even if you need to wait for it for a few minutes. That will be your table for dining this week, so long as that is where you and your friend would like to sit.” It was a beautiful window view at sunset with attentive and pleasant dining staff. Of course, we wanted to stay there. 

That was the Imperfect Day at Coco Cay, so I spent most of the afternoon and early evening trying to get reimbursed for that missed excursion. I had talked until I could talk no more, and it was nearing time for dinner. Lynne sent me ahead to secure our dinner table and she was going to keep trying in the Excursions and Guest Services lines. I went to the 3rd deck, got in line, got to the host stand, asked politely for table 322, and was told by Janice that it was occupied and that I would need to eat elsewhere. I took a deep breath and slowly said, “I believe if you’ll check the notes for my room, cabin 6268, you’ll see that I’m sitting at table 322. Tonight, and for the rest of the cruise. I don’t mind waiting until the current occupants are finished eating there. My roommate is running a few minutes behind, anyway.” She started to say something to me, something that looked like it was going to be unpleasant, but she checked as I asked her to. And her entire demeanor changed. I have no idea what it said in those notes. It may well have called me a psycho witch. But we sat at table 322 for the remainder of the trip for dinner seating. 

My wait was only about five minutes. They led me in, seated me, and I explained to Jose that we were having some issues with Guest Services, so Lynne would be along shortly. Which she was. Around 7:05, she walked in and sat down, her face flushed. “Well, you’re getting your money back. But you have to be at Guest Services by 8, or they’re not going to refund the money; they’ll only issue an onboard credit [which I did not want because I have been burned by Royal Caribbean doing that before], so we’re going to have to make dinner really quick.” If you could only understand how long the lines for Guest Services had been every time I’d had to stand there. A minimum of 20-30 minutes each time. I knew that we had to eat. And I had fought for this table. 

Jose, our Head Waiter came back to get our orders. I was on the verge of tears. I was so tired of fighting with Guest Services on this cruise! I tried to quietly explain that we were having some serious issues with Guest Services and that they had demanded that I be at the Desk by 8 p.m. or the issue could not be resolved, so we were just going to have an appetizer and a dessert that night. Jose was visibly concerned that we were not going to be able to have dinner. He took our orders, and left, but we could tell that he was concerned. A couple of minutes later, Ehren came over and leaned in to speak with us privately. “Jose tells me that there is some trouble with Guest Services and you must leave without eating your full dinner?”

So I tried to briefly explain the situation, adding that this would be the ninth time in about 30 hours that I had been to Guest Services to discuss something that had gone wrong. Ehren put his hands on our shoulders and smiled the warmest smile. “Go. Do what you must do. Take your time. Your table shall be waiting for you when you come back. You simply tell them at the front that you have been called away on an emergency and that you shall return as soon as possible. I shall make sure that your table is waiting upon your arrival back to the dining room. When you come to my dining room, you come to relax, to enjoy your food and your time with your friend. You do not come to rush and be worried. Go now. We will wait for you.”

I literally teared-up. On a ship full of people who didn’t seem to care one whit about my comfort, happiness, or well-being (except for Patut, our room steward), this man had now two nights in a row championed our situation and made us feel like diamonds when others had insisted on making us feel like insignificant stones beneath their feet. I couldn’t help but reach out and hug him as we left, thanking him profusely. You can imagine Janice’s expression when I paused to tell her that it may look like table 322 was empty, but that we had been called away for a bit of an emergency, but would return. At 7:58, I received my refund at the uest Services Desk, that last time I would go to that desk on the trip (although I really should have stayed in line and gone to the desk the final night instead of taking the onboard credit that they cut in half by the morning we left that I’m still trying to get credited back to my American Express).

Ehren, Jose, and Iwayan, might easily have seen us as troublemakers that first night because we were stuck standing in the middle of the dining room for ten minutes, not knowing what to do. But they took a different approach. One of extreme customer service. One of genuine interest about the people for whom they were taking care in that dining room. When we left that ship the final night, I felt like I was leaving friends behind in the three of them. I felt like I was leaving family. People who went the extra mile to make sure that I had what I needed, and maybe even deserved. That was the one thing that Royal Caribbean got right on this cruise – but I honestly credit the individuals more than I do the company; there are some things that come naturally, not from being trained.