We took a 7-day cruise called "Pearls of the Orient" between 7-14.07.2012 on the Voyager of the Seas. This was our 4th cruise with the Royal Carribean (but the first one in Asia), so we are familiar with the basic concept according to which they operate and our expectations were very high. This time we left the ship a bit mixed feelings and slightly disappointed.
But let's start from the beginning:
The check-in was quite quick - apparently our timing (we arrived around midday) was ideal. Before we got to the point where the lady presented us with our sea pass cards, we had to get our passports copied (they are collected before entering the ship and returned one day before arrival in Shanghai) and fill in the arrival card for Japan. Basing on this a temporary landing card is granted upon arrival in Japan.
Also the security check was efficient, with no questions asked.
Food was a bit disappointing. Lots of choices, but mainly targeted towards a Chinese audience. The list of western foods was limited, with some items (like salmon) on the menu not available at all. 4 of our group of 6 experienced abdominal pain (and diarrhea) at some point of the cruise, so either the quality of the food or the cleanliness was not following the standards.
What struck us the most was that not all the people were sanitizing their hands when entering the restaurant. Usually RCCL is really strict about that, but now the "gatekeepers" were clearly keeping their eyes closed when certain groups were passing.
The restaurants (especially Windjammer) were full almost all the time. There were lots of queues and noise. Far from "private dining"experience... We noticed that the best time to eat was just before the restaurant is closing. The dining room was open for lunch only 1.5 hours, which was clearly not enough.
The splendor and glamour of the formal nights were not there at all. Obviously formal and casual mean the same thing for some people...
Disembarkation in Kobe was a disaster. We were asked to come to the pub to collect the cards according to which the disembarkation was supposed to take place. With the majority of passengers coming from China, which appear to be masters in the strategy involving the strong usage of elbows and pushing, this was really a bad idea. People were fighting for the small pieces of papers, as if they were fighting for their lives.
In addition the cruise company did not provide enough information about the facilities in the port itself. There are no ATMs there and the money exchange facility was closed, so the people not taking a tour -- had to try their luck and convince the non- English speaking taxi drivers to accept a credit card. All in all it is pretty challenging to get cash from an ATM in Japan -- as not all the machines accept foreign credit cards. Finding one can be a challenge of its own. Fortunately Japanese people are extremely kind and helpful, so regardless of the slight problems with our liquidity, we felt really great there.
The entertainment program was a bit too "narrow" as well. Certain things, which we experienced on previous cruises (and took for granted) like the midnight buffet were totally skipped.
Our stateroom attendant was really great: Quick, efficient and extremely helpful. He was instantly there when we needed him and made himself unnoticed, when we did not require any attention.
Also our waiters in the dining room were really nice.
Gym is excellent. There's a long row of treadmills, steppers and crosstrainers.
Disembarkation in Shanghai (involving a passport control) went well too. There were no queues anywhere and the luggage arrived quickly.