The VOS is one of the older RCCL ships and is scheduled to be refurbished soon. It is quite attractive and its overall appearance is good. We enjoyed its smaller size, making it easier to negotiate than the mega ships. It is maintained impeccably clean in every public area and in the cabins, although it is somewhat shabby in places and clearly showing its age. Some of this is to be expected, such as the frayed edges of carpeting, and does not interfere with functionality or with our enjoyment. But other evidences of wear are unnecessary and result in discomfort, such as the lounge chairs on Deck 10. (Deck 10 is where passengers who do not wish to sit near the noise and crowds of the pool sit.) These chairs are old and worn with webbing that is ripped or stretched so that one finds all their weight resting on metal crossbars. It becomes necessary to "try" many, many chairs in order to find one that is comfortable, then move the usable chairs order to position several together. The chairs around the pool (Deck 9) have been replaced and are fine. There are sufficient chairs for all guests, but many of them are unusable.
Ventilation throughout the ship was a problem. During the first five days the entire ship, public areas and cabins were excessively warm. I am usually cold, always needing a sweater and even I was too warm. Thereafter, we found most of the ship adequately air conditioned and comfortable, although some people in neighboring cabins still complained of the heat. Toward the end of the cruise, the theater and casino were, again, uncomfortably warm. Air conditioning workers were very active and visible in many cabins.
Most of the crew was hard-working, conscientious, and eager to please. Despite their efforts, the quality of service was lacking due to severe understaffing and lack of supervision. When a request was made, "the buck was passed" to someone else. For example, when we received an erroneous charge, I went to Guest Services and was told to contact Housekeeping, who told me to contact Guest Services, who told me to again contact Housekeeping. Eventually the Deck Supervisor became involved and our bill was corrected. There were several such incidents, especially in Dining Services, and almost all problems were resolved, or somewhat resolved, but it did take much of our time and effort. It also required much time and effort on the part of already overworked staff. Being so under-staffed, one can understand why several of them tried to pass things off to someone else.
Although we had read poor reviews about the VOS, the price of this particular cruise much lower than the other Transatlantics and sowe thought we'd try it. Early in the cruise, we made the decision not to allow the poor service to detract from our enjoyment, and it did not. We enjoyed the cruise and aren't at all sorry we took it. Overall, the VOS needs much improvement in order to come close to the standards of RCCL. I thought it important to write this review so that those who may be booked on a future VOS voyage have the option of adjusting their expectations so that they will not be disappointed.
Following is a department by department description of our impressions.
This was by far the area most in need of improvement, as the following selected examples demonstrate.
Having special dietary needs, we contacted RCCL prior to the cruise, as did our travel agent, and RCCL had assured us that there would be "no problem." As instructed via email by RCCL, immediately after boarding we went to see the dining room matre d' to confirm that these needs were being met. We were sent back and forth between the Head Waiter and a few others in the Dining Room and were continually told that there was nothing they could do for us, regardless of what we had been told by RCCL, a poor way to begin a cruise. Finally, in desperation, went to Guest Services and the matter was satisfactorily resolved in a matter of minutes.
We were exceptionately fortunate for dinner. We had My Time dining, sat at the same table every evening, and our waiter and assistant were excellent! However, the kitchen was disorganized and unprepared to serve the number of guests on board, resulting in waiters often needing to wait for food on long lines in the kitchen. This created a domino effect with the assistant waiters needing to fill in by doing the waiters' work and, therefore, not being able to do their own. Everything then gets backed up. One evening we were in the dining room for two hours, waiting over an hour between our appetizer and main. At lunchtime guests have the option of dining in the main dining room or in the Windjammer buffet. We tried the Dining Room once and never saw our waiter; the assistant waiter had taken our order and, after waiting more than 75 minutes without being served, we left and ate in the Windjammer buffet.
One evening the kitchen ran out of both the "chef's selection" appetizer and main courses at 6:15 PM, resulting in backups from the needs of many to reorder, several guests becoming angry, and, again, a 2-hour dinner.
Extra tables are placed in the Dining Room in order to accommodate more guests for which the dining room was designed. One breakfast I was seated on a ramp and concerned that my chair would tilt backwards! There are tables blocking aisles and at the base of staircases, resulting in difficulty passing and in those seated in such places being jostled by those passing by.
There were far fewer waiters and assistant waiters than we have seen on other cruises. Although they worked very hard and literally ran back and forth to the kitchen, their number was insufficient to adequately serve all the guests. Moreover, we never saw any senior officer supervising in any dining room, and those who were supervising missed many problems, mistakes, and omissions in service.
On several days, there were additional specialty buffets poolside. These were not announced in the daily Compass, the newsletter listing all on-board activities. One day I overheard talk of one of these buffets and called Guest Services to inquire about it. I was told that, since it was not in the Compass, they were unaware of it. It seems that the only announcement of these "surprise" poolside buffets was the Cruise Director's regular 10 AM announcement. Unfortunately, ship-wide announcements cannot be heard in cabins or on balconies, so guests spending this time in cabins or on their balconies are unaware of these activities. It seems that even Guest Services is unaware of them, as well.
One day we went to the Windjammer buffet for lunch at 12:30, the height of lunch time. One entire side was closed and the buffet line on the open side extended into the foyer. I asked one of the Windjammer "leaders" why half the buffet was closed at this busy time when the line was long. He looked surprised when I brought this to his attention and apologized. The full buffet was opened within 10 minutes. Although no staff noticed this, and they should have, they were responsive and quick to rectify the problem.
During the last three days several food items were missing from the breakfast buffet in the Dining Room. When we requested one of these items, we were told that it was toward "the end of the cruise" and so they had "run out." When we questioned one of the supervisors about it, we were told that it is normal to run out of many of the food items at the end of the cruise. We never before have been on a cruise where several food items had been exhausted three days before the end.
Thank goodness for the My Time dinner staff because their professionalism, hard work, and desire to serve helped to soften our breakfast and lunch experiences.
The quality of the food was adequate.
We had a junior suite and were fortunate enough to have an aft cabin on the end with a large balcony that wrapped around the side. Because our room and our balcony were so comfortable and delightful, we found that we spent much more time there. The lounge and deck chairs (4) on the balcony were mesh and extremely comfortable. The room had plenty of storage space and, best of all, a real soaking tub in the bathroom. The cabin attendant was attentive and eager to please; we never had to request anything more than once. However (and this was no fault of his), he had so many cabins assigned to him and he was new to the position, being required to attend many morning "meetings." This combination of newness, meetings and a large number of cabins resulted in our cabin being cleaned between 1 and 2 PM every day.
The first day that we sent laundry, we received back someone else's. The following day we did receive our own. However what was promoted as "Wash and Fold" service was really "Wash and Stuff into Bag" service. Our clothes were creased beyond imagination and unwearable. Our cabin attendant took the clothes back and had them redone for us, returning them the next day (most of the staff really tried their best), more than 3 days after we sent our laundry. The next time we sent a bag of laundry in, it was again returned creased beyond wearability. At that point, we just gave up. But we received our own laundry back! Hooray!
Spa and Fitness Center
The spa staff always was professional, polite, pleasant, and extremely helpful. I had one "signature"spa treatment which were excellent. The steam-room and sauna were fine. The locker room area was stuffy, hot, and poorly ventilated, making it unconducive to use the steam-room or sauna. My husband observed that the restroom in the men's locker room was always wet and dirty.
The fitness center was much too small for the number of passengers. There was a total of 8 treadmills, 7 ellipticals, 3 stationary bikes, approximately 8 machines (no 2 of any kind), 3 benches, positioned directly in front of the weights making it difficult to obtain weights when someone was using a bench, and a tiny area for classes. More often than not, it was necessary to wait to use equipment. The area was so small that the equipment was crowded together and there was a claustrophobic feeling. Because of the overcrowding in such a limited space, the entire area was usually stuffy and smelled of sweat. Moreover, in addition to the 2,000 passengers, several crew members used the fitness center as the crew gym, I was told, was the size of a closet and even more poorly ventilated.
Future Cruise Sales
The staff was polite and very helpful. We were interested in looking at some future itineraries, but there was no available literature that we could take and browse at our leisure. There were only two hard-cover notebooks with the RCCL itineraries in plastic sleeves and for use only in the department, and one similar notebook for Celebrity, for which we has to ask. This was within a day or two of embarkation and we were told that they "ran out of brochures."
Overall, the Guest Services staff was amazingly professional and polite, even in the face of angry guests shouting at them. For the most part, I found them to be helpful, if not consistently efficient. During the last day of the cruise, a day when people have multiple questions, at 9 AM there was a line of 14 people and only two Guest Services staff at the counter. They did not send questionnaires requesting preferred disembarkation times and we were arbitrarily assigned a time of approximately 8:55 AM even though we had a 10:45 AM flight out of Miami (we were docking in Ft. Lauderdale)! This information was provided in our on-line check-in. We could have been assigned a disembarkation time of 7 AM. Clearly, departing at 8:55 would result in our missing our flight. At that point, the lines at Guest Services were so long that we opted for Express Departure, enabling us to leave the ship at 6:30 AM, but carrying our own luggage (despite the fact that my husband has a leg in a cast).
The Casino staff was professional, very friendly, and helpful. This certainly encouraged spending time there, which we enjoyed.
We appreciated that the Cruise Director was low key, not trying to convince us that we were having a great time and not intruding by making frequent loud announcements. The music around the ship was fine, but. we would have appreciated the opportunity to listen to classical music, especially before dinner. We thoroughly enjoyed the production shows and several of the other entertainers. A few of the evening shows were quite bland, but others were really excellent and varied.
The Photographers were professional, non-intrusive, and produced great results. Unfortunately, a batch of photos was "lost" and ours was among them.
In the future, we will shy away from the VOS in favor of other ships.