Will it be my last trip with RCI , I've yet to make my mind up on that one.
My trip from Tianjin to Singapore began well , with three magnificent days in Beijing. Every preconception that I had had of China vanished in an instant. The city was alive, virtually pulsating with life . From the great wall at Mityanu to the Forbidden City and Tianamin Square I was mesmerised! The city has approx M 22 inhabitants and is populated by more than M5 vehicles , each which makes its way across the metropolis ignoring all the rules of the road ( assuming they exist) People are extremely polite and everyone seems to be in possession of the latest technology. The underground is ultra modern, thronging with people and it, like the streets, spotless . Shopping is to die for with all the latest high fashion and luxury goods in abundance. If this is communism , then where did we go wrong!
I booked all of my transfers to and from Beijing together with my trips to the Ming Tombs and The Great Wall via the Internet through Chinese official tourism sites . Dealing with the Chinese was a delight. They were incredibly efficient and polite even providing guest" pay pal " links to enable me to use my credit card. My tour guides arrived , bang on time , spoke perfect English and couldn't do enough for me. I can recommend China Highlights and Tour-Beijing. Com. I would certainly use them again.
Anyway back to the Voyager of the Seas and the trip round the south china seas.
Call me cynical but neither I nor most of the passengers were too happy at the ship docking so far out from some of the ports of call! Hong Kong was 30 minutes by courtesy coach but Bangkok was two hours away, as was Ho Ch Minh city. This meant that when factoring in a tour then you could finish up spending more time on the coach than you actually spent at your destination. I chose to travel to the tunnels of Cu Chi and spent two and a half hours getting there and another three and a half on the return journey. Result-- shattered!
I don't know whether it was the sheer size of the ship which prevented it from docking closer to the cities or did RCI chose not to pay the high docking fees , preferring the cheaper option of the container ports? I leave the readers to ponder this one.
On the whole I enjoyed the ports of call although I feel that I've seen every temple in the far east. Every tour seemed to feature a number of temples, albeit they were really beautiful. Japan was exactly what I expected, very orderly with incredibly polite people . Jeju in SouthKorea was a waste of time. Stay on the ship! Hong Kong - amazing. Ho Ch Minh - teeming with people and bikes. Bankok- only saw the temples before returning to the ship. Xiamen in China- amazing- modern - spotless- a true delight. Singapore- the highlight of the trip- do yourself a big favour and add a few days on at the end of the trip to enjoy the sheer delight and beauty of this modern , spotlessly clean Garden of Eden.
Now to the ship. The crew were amongst the friendliest I have ever encountered , they couldn't do enough for you. This however is where the compliments end!
The food was the worst that I have ever encountered on many of the ships I have travelled on over many years. Main courses were overcooked and dry and I found myself having to ask for vegetables, otherwise they might never have appeared! When they did appear however they consisted of broccoli and carrots.! That was the choice! Drinks were expensive as was the wine at dinner. The presentation was no better than one would expect of a poorly presented school dinner. The main dining experience was , in my opinion, so poor that I found myself eating on several occasions in the buffet dining room. To be fair to RCI however , when I complained to the dining manager , he did say that this had been a learning curve for them also and that they had had to cater for eastern tastes! He also stated that a lot of food had been rejected at Beijing as being below quality and other food had been taken on with Chinese script that they had difficulty in deciphering. I don't know if I can swallow that one!
On one evening however we chose to dine at the Portofino restaurant which levied a twenty dollar surcharge. This was worth every penny and reminded me just how good the food should have been and undoubtedly could be if RCI got their act together.
Other areas of the ship that needed improving included the theatre acts, where again I've seen better entertainment at my child's school. The skating on ice show however was superb. The library- the worst I've ever experienced at sea! Get a grip on this RCI, it doesn't take a lot of cash to sort this one out! Hardly any books and virtually no non fiction. Don't Americans read? The cinema was also an excuse for entertainment. It was tiny and the viewing experience ruined by the bright blue light shining on to the centre of the screen. The door to the small cinema was propped ajar and no one bothered to check that everything was in order before the film began. Poor show! The art auction- this was so loud as to be uncomfortable . Many people walked out and this in spite of the fact that I and others had asked for the microphone volume to be turned down-- alas to no avail.
Having spoken to many fellow passengers , many of whom had travelled withRCI in the past , it seemed that there were obvious signs of cutbacks in a number of areas. Normally when you board a ship you are presented with a small fold up credit card sized plan of the ship- not in this instance- a sheet of A 4 was the proffered method. Likewise with the en suite toiletries-- where had they gone? Port maps provided were virtually useless and one got the distinct feeling that when you elected not to take a ship tour but rather do it on your own , then as far as RCI was concerned then you really were on your own! They did virtually nothing for the independent traveller. If travelling with RCI and if you plan to do your own thing then make sure you arm yourself in advance with street plans timetables etc. Be warned! The powers that be also failed miserably at giving out valuable information re local taxis, costs of fares , buses , where to pick them up etc. At the purser's desk they also gave out high denomination notes and refused to take back coins. If choosing to take a local taxi then the equivalent of a $20 or Â£20 pound note is about as is useful as a hole in the head!
The port information lectures were invariably delivered at 10 am and were not filmed for the on board tv, so if you missed them, tough! What would it have taken to film them and put them on later during the day? On this ship , unlike others I struggled to find things to do during the day. Little or no interesting lectures, lots of tutorials on cake icing , ice carving, paper folding, origami, etc! Yawn!! The ship does however have lots of pool space , areas for sunbathing, mini golf, climbing wall, ice skating, many bars, cinema and art collection.
Shopping on board was poor and most disappointing . A few expensive high end jewellery shops , some selling watches at Â£30'000. !! What was most obviously missing however was a general store. The "general" section amounted to a couple of shelves located in a fashion area. If you needed baby wipes, aspirin, elastoplasts etc then tough!
I will not write off RCI just yet , but I will chose very carefully when comparing what they have to offer with Princess, Holland America etc. On this particular occasion let's just say I was most disappointed .