We cruised on VOTS from Shanghai to Kobe, Nagasaki and Jeju on 7 July 2012. Here is my experience. I am a Chinese. There was around 2000+ Chinese passengers in this cruise and was really amazing. There were many Chinese staff as well, including the cruise director, Fang.
Embarkation was in the new pier in Baoshan. It was too new and the air conditioning was yet to installed. It was really hot. Hundreds of passengers crowded together before the check-in counter. It was still in order, but it took me 30 minutes to go through the queue and the immigration, and was still regarded as acceptable, and would be better if there was air conditioning. The staff in immigration department using box of ice and a electric fan to lower down the room temperature in their office, very primitive for Shanghai's standard.
The VOTS was in good condition but a bit old fashion as it was built in 1999. It was well maintained older ship, particularly in public area. The Promenade, the main street for pub and shops, is very attractive. It was also used as party place after 10 pm one night, with very good atmosphere.
We stayed at the stateroom with balcony. We travelled with my parents, wife and son, and we have two connecting stateroom. It was clean, with all basic stuff. No shampoo, no slipper (need additional charge for robe and slipper). But it was not luxury. The sofa was a bit old with stain. The sitting toilet was also old with stain, and certainly need replacement. Otherwise, the room was quite satisfactory.
Cabin attendant, Saviour, was very good and polite. Any problem would be solved within 30 minutes.
MDR waiter Jason (from India) and Yang (from China) were excellent and outstanding. They were friendly and attentive. All additional requirements were always entertained or answered. They are much much better than the staff in Portofino, which were rude and inattentive. There were always empty glasses. The manager, standing beside our table, waved the hand to me to come to the table, instead of leading me from the entrance. The management should consider enhance the training of Portofino.
Portofino's appetite was excellent. But the florentine steak was terrible and absolutely waste of money. Other main courses were said to be good. So please avoid steak in Portofino.
MDR -Food was reasonable and average with occasional surprise. Overall, the entree was much better than the appetizer, though the salad was quite good. The bread was all poor in all 7 nights. It was tasteless, and cold. All the soup was not hot enough. The steak was excellent, and the lobster in one night was also excellent. There were still lot of room for improvement in MDR.
My impression was that, they were too many Asian choice, which was already disappointing, and the quality of Asian food was also below standard. The water, and regular coffee were free of charge.
We haven't tried Johnny Rocket. We bought the Platinum wine package and the price was reasonable. But the quality of wine was disappointing, which was inferior than the supermarket Australian wine. The sommeliers of RCI, if any, need further training, or replacement. I think I can do a better job for RCI with the same price range.Hair dressing salon - rude , unprofessional - our complaint sent directly to RCI.
The gym, rock climbing, mini-golf were reasonable. The swimming pools were small and old. The teens activities were inadequate. The children water zone was also old and inadequate. Lot of programmes organized by the cruise were excellent. Many live band and music performance there and were excellent with different varieties. Shopping was also good. RCI do a good job to organize various activities and one would not be bore in this cruise.
The administrative staffs are really terrible. I booked the excursion tour through the interactive TV, which was a good idea to avoid queuing too long. The tickets were supposed to be sent to the room before 4 pm. I found that I haven't received it till 10 pm. I made three phone call, around 45 mins apart, which promised to send the ticket to my room within 30 mins. However, I received nothing, and at 1 am, I went down to the front-desk to ask them to print the ticket out. The tour was scheduled at 6:30 am the same morning, i.e. I could only sleep at most 5.5 hours that day. It was totally unacceptable.
My dinner time was booked at 8 pm, but my cruise cards stated 5:45 pm. I didn't notice it and I had my dinner at 8 pm at the first and third night (the second night at portofino). The fourth night, a senior staff call Betty came and told me that we should switch back to 5:45 pm. She refused to accept my request, and I have to bring back the cruise reservation document to prove that we were scheduled at 8pm before aboard, and was changed (? or mistake) to 5:45 pm without any notice. After 40 minutes argument, finally, she rearranged us back to 8 pm, but at different table. I didn't understand why she needed to change our table as we had dinner for already three nights. Betty should work as a teacher, as she was straight, firm and not flexible, rather than a cruise staff.
Ports of call -
Kobe - we had great reception with orchestra to welcomed us and farewell us. It was easy to get around with rail and tube. The Mt Rokko was excellent.
Kyoto was good, as it was Japan's ancient capital. It was a one day tour by bus, and was quite expensive.
Nagasaki was a smaller port and would be easily to get around by taxi or tram. I joined the tour was it was waste of time.
Jeju, is a Korean island. It needed a tour to take you to all those natural scenery. Pity that there is no shopping time in Korea.
The major problem of the excursion operated by cruise was too early. We needed to wake up at 5:30 am or 6 am for breakfast before the tour. It made the excursion day not that enjoyable.
All the ports visited were good choice for me.
I usually go to clubmed with average shows, and here the performances and shows were all excellent with very high standard. The ice-skating was great. The choice of songs was a bit strange as in Hollywood night, there was no familiar or great songs. But the orchestra and the dancer were good.
VOTS cruise was full of fun and there was unusually lot of Chinese passengers and Chinese staff in this American cruise. I am looking forwards to taking a better cruise, say, Freedom of the Sea, to China, Korea, Japan, Taipei or even Eastern Russia.