Voyager of the Seas- 7 days Shanghai-Shanghai Pearls of the Orient Cruise July 7-14, 2012
* Note this was a cruise which principally catered for the local Chinese population. Westerners were a small minority, and it was an experience to be the minority culture. It would be helpful in this type of cruise, for some sort of notification that all are welcome, but the cruise is built around the Chinese consumer. I enjoyed not being offered a drink on the boat, during the whole seven days, and could purchase drinks at my leisure, different to the normal American, Aussie, English scene, with bars full ,service full on and waiters chasing you down for drink orders. On the other hand, The Casino did well above average takings. Ship also full of children, had not factored that in!
This was an interesting and good cruise in a very large Cruise ship (137,000 tons, 14 floors), aging gracefully, with entertainment and main dining room facilities up to scratch, but there were some buts!!!!!!
- One of the buts was Japan authorities requiring every passenger on boat at the two Japanese Ports of Call, to disembark and have a face to face immigration inspection, even if you did not want to disembark at any stage of the Port visit. Every one had to get off, undergo inspection, and then be cleared for departure or return to boat. First time this requirement took from 1pm-6pm (a shambles), second time quicker, but on a seven day cruise, what a silly and intrusive requirement.
- Another was the restrictive dining hours, both at Main dining room and for Windjammer Cafe buffet, and the que's lining up to be fed were long. See comment on Restaurants
- Complete lack of information on Ports for independent travelers
Flew Auckland to Shanghai on Air New Zealand, Pacific Economy class. A 12 hour flight, into Pudong Airport. Left midnight NZ time, arrived 7.30am China time. Air New Zealand service good. Taxi fare from Airport to Sofitel Hyland was 185 Yuan, 50 minute taxi drive. Lovely hotel, centrally located, excellent air conditioning, lovely room, no pool, nice Gym. Really hot weather 36C, I would not normally go summer time, but circumstances dictated. Hot and humid, with lots of rain throughout!
Shanghai accessible, rail subway excellent, lots of things to do
Ship departed following day some 30K from Central Shanghai. 90 Yuan Taxi fare to Port, ship this size, (3,600 passengers) unable to berth at the Central Bund Cruise Terminal. Once again the cruise industry lets itself down, with little notification of the cruise departure location, distance from downtown, transport options etc. You have to do your own research, from various websites, because the travel industry and the cruise operators are just not up with the play on Port issue details. Asian Ports in particular are crying out for a blog or similar detailing Port facilities, access, transport options, distance to Central hotels, tourist facility.
Getting on board was reasonably straight forward, but totally disconcerting to be told by Chinese immigration, that our Visa's had been issued with only one entry stamp, and we would have to arrange a new Visa entry at our cost, if we wanted to return to China at the end of the cruise, and catch our flight home. Ship staff was helpful here, and a Visa was arranged at a cost, the error was from NZ Chinese embassy staff, and we were the victims. My travel agent will be pursing the local embassy for reimbursement. By the way, Chinese entry Visa's are expensive, only issued for duration of visit and a real hassle for travelers. My agent Bruce Blacklock of Harvey World Travel, Wellington always helpful in obtaining these, you can also purchase through the Web and pick up, but it's costly and Travel industry is not transparent re these hidden costs.
Similar comment re the Japanese Immigration requirement above, I had no idea this was required, found out on Board, in the context of a 7 day trip, 2/3 of one day was principally involved with this process. Not good enough
The ship in general
Voyager of the Seas was the biggest cruise ship in the world in November 1999 when launched, and is still one of the big ones. It was in good condition, had a minor refit in 2009, and a major one due next yr. The first mega liner to do the Asian Cruise area, though the Diamond of the Seas Princess line is in practical terms very similar in size and length, and is a familiar sight in the Asia region.
The ship focus is its main street, which is like a Broadway Boulevard and very nice, and its main dining area with 3 levels classic and impressive. Equally its large 1300 seat Cabaret and Stage shows area was great.
The ship has its own Ice rink, and a wonderful Ice show it was. I want to emphasize, the Ice skating show was world class, the Boulevard Street impressive, the main dining room food and style excellent, and the entertainment in the main Theatre, very good, with the Singers and Dance productions, excellent quality in style and voice. .
What were lacking were the support restaurants. Wind Jammer Buffet restaurant ran restricted hours, both it and the main dining rooms were closed by 9pm, and queuing and wait time was a regular feature. There was an Italian Portofino surcharge restaurant $20 USA per person, also Johnny Rockets per person surcharge of $4.95 per person. A ship of this size requires a top class restaurant and Portafino meets this test, but for 3 of us to dine at Johnny Rockets, a burger restaurant the $15 surcharge turned us off. We did not eat there, and neither did most of the other passengers.
When the main dining room was not available, two sittings at night, and the Windjammer buffet closed, your only realistic alternatives for food were room service (long waits) and coffee and snacks at the Promenade Cafe. This alternative was sound, but it is only a small area, and could not cope with those looking for a late evening or night meal
*The solution is to open Windjammers till at least midnight-even 24 hours- and take the surcharge off Johnny Rockets.
There was a well stocked and large Library, limited internet facilities, a stand alone card room, and late release movies played each day in various locations, however virtually the same movies were shown again and again, no excuse on a 7 day cruise, should be new movies each day.
No formal lectures or presentations on this trip, no wine tasting, no secondary entertainers playing in the No 2 lounge area, though good standard Piano and classical guitar in other areas.
Royal Caribbean cruises, like others add a US 11.00 a day per person amount to your bill and that covers your tipping for the total cruise. This is done so that people employed on the ship who are not in direct contact with you on the ship can also receive something. If you don't like this idea you can negotiate with the Pursers office to have the amount reduced if you wish, and envelopes for tips are available. In this instance we prepaid, took any emotion out of the issue.
Viking Crown lounge at the top Level of the ship was small and not as impressive as say the Diamond Princess, but a wonderful place to grab a book and soak up the sea view, as the ship proceeds.
Good standard of Art on display, no auctions as Chinese not into that form of purchase (thank goodness) it was nice to view the Art, ask the price and then consider if that met requirements
The cruise was calm throughout; without the motion sickness issues that often occur on NZ/Aussie cruises and up the Pacific Rim area. Sea sickness can be managed by good planning, patches/tablets if one is prone, but calm or rough the Travel industry does not dwell on this area-buyer beware!.
Traditional 1st or second sitting evening dining room sitting versus My Time dining are great options. I found the Royal Caribbean My time dining option somewhat complicated to understand in practice. I had requested a table for 3 alone , 1st sitting Traditional dining, and was given seating at 1st sitting at a table of 8 people , so switched to my preferred option at the 2nd sitting. It worked well for us, often the Headline shows were 7pm for the 2nd sitting customers, followed by dinner, and those in 1st sitting had their dinner first and then went to the 9pm show.
Somewhat surprisingly this large ship had only two substantial dining venues, the Traditional dining room for meals or the Windjammer Buffet. The traditional dining room, had three levels, and was a grand setting. Enjoyed their meals and service, be it dinner, lunch or breakfast. The Windjammer Buffet was typical of most others, the Island Grill component of the buffet, being more pleasant than the general area. The issue with this service was its restrictive hours, generally closed at 9pm, and gaps in the day time too.
Portofino was the fine dining alternative with the $20 surcharge per person, we did not go as only 7 day cruise, but it looked great. Way up on the 12th floor was the American Johnny Rockets Cafe, with its $4.95 per person surcharge, and it appeared to get little patronage!
Room service had pleasant options, but long delays in getting orders, so we used this option less than previous.
The Promenade Cafe was a pleasant and free alternative venue, very basic and standard, and did not cope well with the demands placed upon it.
We had a 6th floor standard interior stateroom Number 6167, which was pleasant. Air conditioning worked well, and the Bathroom was pleasant with the shower completely enclosed, no curtains.
The design of the cabin made good use of mirrors to enhance the feeling of light and maximize space. The open space wardrobes provided plenty of hanging and excellent storage space for our requirements. Modern 29 "TV, excellently positioned. The room configuration made it seem more spacious than it was. Nice soft lounge chair too. Our main cases fitted side by side quite comfortably. Bathroom shower pressure excellent. There is a safe in every room.
PORTS OF CALL-
Three on trip. Overnight at Kobe, Nagasaki and JeJu Island Korea
Organized ship tours available for each Port. We booked in advance for a 10 hour Kobe/Kyoto/Osaka tour, very limited information on the Royal Caribbean website re details, and we found when on board, we were with an all Chinese group, Chinese guide, No English.
There was a complete lack of information re Port access, whether a shuttle was provided by Local Council or Port authorities, distance to City centre etc. At Kobe we found a free shuttle service into Kobe was provided by the local authority, but not at Nagasaki. Je Ju Island, we found a Duty free operator provided a free shuttle bus to its facility in the middle of a light industrial area, but nothing else.
This lack of information contrasted with the excellent information provided on Board by formal presentations, on recent cruises with Diamond Princess --Singapore-Beijing, and also Rhapsody of the Seas, Hawaii --Auckland.
I presume as this cruise was principally for local Chinese, many in groups, Royal Caribbean did not consider it necessary to provide the usual information, a bad mistake in my view for the few hundred people, who wanted to do their own thing.
Ship location 10 minutes by bus/taxi to main business area. Free shuttle provided.
We did a day tour of Osaka/Kyoto and this was about 9 hours, provided the overview we wished.
Ship location close to town centre, and if well organized walk able. No shuttle provided. We did our own thing, including the Bomb centre and Peace Park, most informative.
Je Ju Island arrived 7am-departed 1pm
This is proclaimed as the Asian Hawaii, and I expected a small Island, with beach and Palms. Alas, we parked in a big Container Port, the city skyline visible in the distance, but not walk able. No service of any sort, brochures piled in bin, halfway along wharf. A local duty free shop provided a shuttle to its store, located 25 minutes away in a light commercial area, of a seedy large city. Getting on the bus and off was an ordeal, hugh crowds fighting for limited space, and we quickly realized we should have taken a formal tour. Beaches and resort areas were long driving times away from where ship berthed, our perceptions were a seedy city, and a forlorn and unattractive Port berth.