This was our 4th cruise and first time RC. This was a family holiday for my wife & I, and 2 teenagers (13 & 15). We were fortunate to be on the ship for Christmas & New Year.
We arrived in Sydney a couple of days before the ship sailed so we wouldn't be rushing. The first time we saw Voyager, it was the 'wow' factor that hit us all. This ship is huge.
Embarkation day was not the smoothest experience I've had. Many others on our Roll Call group had a similar experience. When you do your mandatory online check in, you are issued with your boarding pass. In our case our boarding pass said embarkation was 1.00pm. Once you start going through the RC web site, you get conflicting information that the ship loads passengers by deck.
So with our room being on deck 3, the website said we had a 4.30pm embarkation. We sent an email to RC to clarify if we were supposed to board at 1.00pm or 4.30pm and we got a reply after we got back from our trip. A tad late! So having to sit around Circular Quay for 3 Â½ hours after what our RC issued boarding pass said was disappointing. We had to check out of our Sydney hotel by 11.00am so we had no choice but to sit and wait.
Previous cruises to ours had problems with Norovirus so we weren't allowed to our rooms until 4.30pm as the staff were doing extra cleaning. This wasn't a big issue as it was in our own best interest anyway. It gave us a chance to start to explore the ship anyway.
On previous cruises, the sail-away party has always been a huge highlight and sets the mood for the rest of the cruise with staff interacting with passengers from the outset. No big sail away event on Voyager which was disappointing.
A main feature of Voyager is the Royal Promenade which is a big mall that runs down the middle of the ship on deck 5 with shops, boutiques, pubs and coffee shop (Starbucks) scattered down either side. On previous cruises we've done, most of the major activity takes place on or around the pool deck. On Voyager, all the important stuff happens on the Royal Promenade which is fine until the ship is at full capacity with guests, and then it doesn't cope at all.
They had 'Dreamworks' parades that took place down the Royal Promenade but we didn't see any as our dinner setting time was always at the same time as these parades.
Our stateroom was great. As with all cruises, the staff on board make the difference and influence your experience. Our cabin steward was Jerry. Nothing was too much for him, he was outstanding. Anything we needed or requested was taken care promptly.
The staff throughout the ship were very professional. Also, this is where we also noticed a difference between this and other cruises we've done. It's not a criticism; it's not that the staff were better or worse than any other cruise, just different. It's hard to explain.
The best way to explain it is that I don't think RC have quite captured the Australian market and Australians yet. For example, it took us 3-4 days for us to get a smile and a joke out of our waiter at the main dining room. With previous cruises, the staff have engaged the guests and seem to be in party mode with the guests from day 1 whilst remaining professional. It almost as if Voyager staff need to chill out and relax with Australians a bit more.
While we are talking about differences on the Voyager, let's talk bacon. On Voyager for breakfast they serve 'hickory smoked bacon'. I don't know what they do to it, but it is a cross between beef jerky and potato chips. Super thin and kinda deep fried, not crunchy but kinda chewy. Fortunately after a few days they started doing English/Australian bacon.
Also coffee. There was only one barista style coffee place on the ship, Cafe Promenade on deck 5. There was always a line 20 deep most of the day because the percolated coffee they serve throughout the rest of the ship was undrinkable.
Christmas day on the ship was a little disappointing. Once again, just the difference between how Americans celebrate Christmas to how Australians do.
New Years celebrations were a different thing. Possibly the best New Years experience I've ever had in my life. Live music; huge build up all day. At dinner, they provided every guest on board with a 2013 party hat, noisy blower, beads, ratchet thingy, poppers, etc. The main countdown was in the Royal Promenade. We were packed into 'mosh pit' with over 2,500 other passengers, what a party. At midnight, 1,000's of balloons were released from the ceiling along with confetti cannons, free champagne. The place went off!
During this trip on the Voyager, the ship was at full capacity with 3,800 passengers. With a packed house, the Royal Promenade had difficulty coping with so many passengers on New Years Eve.
There were 3 BBQ's that took place on the pool deck over the 14 nights we were on the ship. These weren't advertised on the ship so it was only by chance that we found the last one near the end of our cruise. You really had to walk around with your daily planner during the day to know what was going on. If you don't normally wear a watch, make sure you do as there were only 2 clocks around the ship that we found. Important if you don't want to miss an activity.
Meet & Mingle put on for Roll Call guests by Voyager was a disappointment. RC sent us an email telling us all that the M&M would take place at High Notes bar, then we were moved to Cleopatra's Needle. We arrived and were greeted by the assistant cruise director. Canopies were provided, introduced herself, spoke for a few minutes and we were left to catch up with all the contacts we made on Roll Call. Regretfully RC had double booked the room as just as we were about to get down to the serious mingling, were kicked out. 'Meet & Mingle' became 'say goodbye & leave'.
Bookings tours with RC was easier. RC tours were well organised and ran like clock work.
Portifinos is the specialty Italian restaurant, cost an additional $20 cover charge. Food was great. I was expecting a bit more of a special dining experience here but the service was probably better out in the main dining room.
Highlight of our cruise was having Australian artist Donald Waters on board painting most days on the Royal Promenade. The art auctions on the Voyager featured his works and we bought several pieces. We have loved his artwork for years.
Our teenagers didn't hang around the teen club much after the first few days once they formed their friendships as there didn't seem to be much happening or organised for them.
Photo packages are available and if you intend on buying a lot of photos or if you are cruising with your family, buying a package is the only way to go. The quality of the photos we got were exceptional, well worth it. The photographers on the ship were fun and creative.
Overall we enjoyed our cruise though we found it much Americanised. Gratuities and tipping did a lot of people's heads in. Not customary in Australia so we struggled with what was an acceptable sized tip without being insulting or too generous. Australians tend to tip because they feel staff deserve it for exception service, not because they are given and envelope and told how much to tip each person. We were generous with those staff that made our experience memorable.
I would certainly cruise with RC again. Once they work out us Australians, cruising will be even better.