Cruising: The ship that has everything

Even its carpets are changed every day on this £410m floating superhotel

The carpets in the glass lifts that glide up and down the atrium of the world's biggest cruise liner are changed every 24 hours to display the current day of the week. One can only presume this little touch is for the "It's Thursday so it must be Nassau" passengers.

The carpets in the glass lifts that glide up and down the atrium of the world's biggest cruise liner are changed every 24 hours to display the current day of the week. One can only presume this little touch is for the "It's Thursday so it must be Nassau" passengers.

The crew say that losing track of time is easy on the £410m floating superhotel, The Explorer of the Seas. With the casino, theatre, nightclub, ice rink, swimming pools and malls of bars, restaurants and shops, it is easy to lose track of everything, including the sea, aboard this city.

Last night The Explorer sailed from the port that long ago saw the Titanic off on its maiden voyage. In three weeks, 5,000 people, 3,840 of them passengers, will board the Royal Caribbean cruise ship for her first trip around the islands.

All day her 142,000 tons had sat quietly, a quarter of a mile of gleaming white hulk overshadowing Southampton docks. Thousands of deckchairs were on parade, row upon row, glinting in the sunshine, on guard around her elegant pools.

Below decks, 1,500 linen and silver table settings had been laid in the three-tier dining room. In the Las Vegas-style casino, hundreds of slot machines stood silently, awaiting an invasion of players. White-coated barmen polished glasses in the Cloud Nine piano bar, Dizzy Gillespie jazz room, Crow's Nest, Old English Pub, 19th Hole, Aquarium and Champagne Bar.

"This is not really something for the independent traveller," said a compnay spokeswoman, Kate Selley, with massive understatement. But it is something for those who want their every need catered for. From the pagers given to parents who leave their offspring in one of its five creches, to the pool table that alters to counter the ship's movement, every touch has been considered.

Passengers on a one-week cruise of the Caribbean will pay from £929 each up to £13,000 for two if they want the Royal Suite. With its marble bathroom and Jacuzzi bubbling on a private outer deck, the suite will suit those who couldn't possibly travel without having their piano next to the bedroom.

"Whatever you want, we have it here," said the white-coated beautician at the elegant ShipShape spa, and described dozens of tortuous-sounding treatments designed to reduce the cellulite brought on by all the meals. The more energetic have a choice of the "gorgeous" gym, the basketball court, a miniature golf course, and even a climbing wall.

The Royal Caribbean company shot well over budget kitting out The Explorer of the Seas, second of five superliners, but the emphasis is on glamour rather than sophistication. Only in the Connoisseur Bar, with its dimmed lights, leather chairs and cigar humidors, can one imagine the black-tie elegance of yesteryear. The nearby Maharaja's Lounge appears to meet the criteria until you find the stage is set up for karaoke.

The ice-rink also doubles as a broadcasting studio that transmits ship-made programmes to the cabin televisions of those who cannot survive a week without game shows or cooking demonstrations.

"The emphasis is on fun," says Miss Selley. "We have a lot of families who travel with us." There are many temptations for younger passengers, including an alcohol-free nightclub.

Those who need to escape all the "fun" can seek refuge in the deep armchairs of the library as long as they don't develop a sinking feeling from the books on the final voyage of the Titanic. "[The film] Titanic did wonders for the cruise industry," says Miss Selley. "They all think they are going to meet their own Leonardo."

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