Sydney to NZ - 14 nights. Platinum Crown & Anchor members staying in a Grand Suite on deck 10.
Arrival: We arrived at Overseas Terminal Sydney around 3pm due to our flight in from country NSW getting to Sydney Airport at around 2.15pm. We walked down to the train platform, via a few escalators, and there were several other Royal Caribbean luggage tags on cases of those around us. In very short time a train arrived and the trip went straight to Circular Quay station. There was light drizzle, but the walk to Voyager was pretty easy and we boarded very quickly due to being Suite guests.
We had been expecting there to be heaps of passengers as had previously been the case with Rhapsody in Sydney in Feb 2011 and with Radiance in Fremantle in March 2012. The staggered boarding seems to work so much better.
We carried 2 bottles of wine onboard in a wetsuit material bottle holder. While other passengers tried to act like the wine police and say we couldn't, we had read the website and knew the rules had changed. All staff could clearly see what we were carrying and we were not questioned.
Room: We went straight to our room 1274 on Deck 10. We had the Room Attendant come a little while later and she seemed surprised that we were comfortably relaxing. She was probably wondering where we had been as our boarding time should have been 11am. No problems though, we all introduced and were shown around the cabin quickly.
Our bags arrived probably around 6-7pm while we were out exploring, and the only problem was of our own making, some of our items were a little wet inside from the light rain from the train station to the ship. I would recommend books and electronics particularly be put in plastic bags if rain might be expected. I tend to pack much of our clothing in separate plastic bags to keep underwear and good wear tidy anyhow, so that helped.
The cabin was in good condition, some wear, as you would expect for a ship that has announced revitalization next year, but nice and roomy and the bed was comfortable and everything seemed very clean. Our bathroom had small shampoo, conditioner, etc, toiletries like a hotel. You get this in Suites including Junior, but not normal balcony rooms.
There was a kettle and a percolator/dripolator thing. The TV had sound running through an amplifier which had small speakers on the wall. There was a DVD player, but we didn't have time to use it, and I couldn't say what region would work in it.
The safes always seem to work well, and any items we put in the cupboard above don't get moved. The rest of the room gets tidied very well, so keep track of where you leave things lying around, they will be tidily in their place when you return! The windows were cleaned during the trip also as they get a bit salty at times, as well as the balcony glass.
The bath is quite high to step into, and this was remarked on by many people. If someone is a bit unsure in this area I would certainly be wary. I don't know why they don't have some Junior Suites and Grand Suites with shower stalls.
There was no valance on the bed, and there was an issue about ice being a problem with a risk that the norovirus would be transmitted with people dipping cups in the ice buckets. (When we asked for ice to come each day it did) We found that most entries to food areas were well patrolled by staff directing guests to sanitize their hands. We personally did not hear of anyone being ill from the virus that had been such an issue when the ship arrived in Sydney last November.
Deck 10: Out in the hallway a few cabins along was a big air blower. It was in the hallway for days, and we heard that later in the cruise a cabin across from us had a toilet overflow issue and the air blower was used in there also. There were often strange smells, urine, musty etc, and several times we saw maintenance people in the hallway, once with a water meter. The pool deck above was often very flooded from the pool water splashing (even though we had quite calm seas most of the trip), and we watched a drain on deck 11, very close to above our cabin, have water sloshing around it, but not going down the small drain very accurately.
Not sure what the cause of the smells was, but we called maintenance one day when there was a revolting musty smell in our room when we came back after lunch. He looked like he couldn't understand what the issue was, but shortly after a fresher smell came through, and when we went into the hallway there seemed to be a light air freshener smell.
Balcony was nice and big with 2 chairs plus a table plus a lounger. Well protected from the wind with the way this ship's hull brings the balconies within the structure. You were very private out there.
The fixtures of the room did not creak like we had experienced on other ships. Some drawers did open when there was motion. We put a couple of wads of paper in the ones beside the bed.
There were never any noise problems in our room at all. The most we heard was late evening a couple of trolleys going across the pool deck. Not noisy, but just to give an example that we are not deaf!
Staff & Service: We were very pleased with nearly every staff member we came across, the only exception being the Casino staff. (Some of the casino staff were arrogant and made the Casino much less of a destination than we had experienced on other cruises)
The Room Attendant, Wait Staff in all areas, Bar Staff, all very nice to deal with. We find that when we use the "Make up our room" tag in our door, it helps our Room Attendant know when we will be out. She never annoyed us, and we don't keep regular morning hours, so a couple of times we thought we had left too late, but came back after lunch and all was done.
Our Concierge (Grand Suite perk) was a very pleasant lady, and would help quickly with any request. As Suite Guests we seemed to have lots of party invites. cruise Critic Meet & Mingle, Crown and Anchor welcome back, Top Tier event (platinum C&A and above), Suite Guest cocktail party, and we also enjoyed the drinks & snacks time in the Concierge lounge from 5pm to 8.30pm. Mostly very nice people, and the lounge could be used as a quiet sitting area at any time. Continental breakfast available, coffee machine good when it worked (but the concierge arranged an alternative.)
Many did remark that it was a pity the lounge is in the center of the ship with no outside views, but that was really in line with the main entertainment are of the Promenade that had no sea view either.
Food: We found the Windjammer food to be very good and had no issues with anything not being hot. The layout took a bit of getting used to, but it was logical to go along it, and if something was low on one side, you could go to the other side to get more. We only got a shock one day when we were up a bit late and went there at 11.30am. It opens for lunch then, and you would think these people were on another ship, not ours that had food available 24 hours! We got a seat and waited a bit till the main rush settled.
We did the Murder Mystery night which was good fun & nice food. Another night we ate in Portofinos and as many have said before, very good value, and good quality. Johnny Rockets we enjoyed twice. Second time we got 2 staff dances and it was great!
We had room service breakfast several times, and as a Suite guests we enjoyed having a bigger menu to choose from. The weather was so nice out on the balcony, and the breakfast generally came within half an hour of ordering, which is what we were told to expect each time we ordered.
Ice Show: - well worth seeing. I personally get very easily bored watching it on TV etc, but I was very pleasantly surprised. They were very entertaining.
Cruise Director: - Graham Seymour, thinks he is funny with what I would consider poor taste with an audience watching the morning TV that would range from babies to 90's. There was less general entertainment organized than on previous cruises in my opinion. Maybe that was because I don't like crushing into the Promenade to see a bunch of kids cartoon animals. I found the Centrum format on previous ships easier to participate in.
Shops: Not my opinion of good. Duty free alcohol which we found a poor selection, the jewelry and watches were either really cheap or really expensive. Promenade had specials in the middle regularly, but we found the clothing and souvenirs shop to have a small range, particularly in the larger sizes, and for a ship travelling around the bottom of NZ, not many jacket options. Each to their own, but we expected a ship 50% larger than Rhapsody and Radiance to have a better range.
Pools & Hot Tubs: They seemed all clean & good, although not much used by us. Saw the hot tubs emptied and cleaned a few times. A bit concerned about the amount of water sloshing around on the pool deck, haven't seen that on other ships where the weather was rougher. There were heaps of deck chairs and lounges all over the place. Adults only solarium good and seemed a good size for the amount of guests.
The Sounds: Mystical and fantastic!
Ships Tours: Did not do any as we had relatives that we were visiting in ports.
Port Chalmers/Dunedin, Wellington and Tauranga were good to get off the ship, but Auckland was a ridiculous amount of walking and I wasn't the only one to feel tired by the time I got out. Getting on at Auckland the customs was a silly bottleneck, didn't mind too much, until we had another check at the top. Very unorganized. The ability is there to get off on the ground level, and why we had so many stairs to negotiate has to be asked.
Disembarkation: Once again it was very quick at the Sydney terminal, and when we went out to the Taxi area, once again, organized and plenty of taxis. It is nowhere near the walk off area near Circular Quay, it is just an areas for taxis. This part they have got right for sure.
NZ is open for business. Lovely people, lovely countryside, and we had very nice, mild, low 20's weather.
Royal Caribbean however is not as open for repeat business. On Rhapsody and Radiance with around 2,000 guests there were 2 future cruise people, and they were always packed. This cruise around 3,000 people and one solitary overworked lady. If you needed to spend time she was helpful, but you knew there was a line of people waiting. Appointment book was there, so you got first preference if you booked (many people didn't seem to like that we had booked, and when we arrived about 5 minutes early for our appointment I think they though we we were out of turn going to see her at our booked time.) We are used to looking up things on the internet and we were shocked at the inaccuracies in the book she handed out. The cruise we were on was supposed to go in the other direction, which we would have loved!
I don't know why they didn't feel it worth trying to get repeat business from our trip, but there have been comments from other more experienced travelers that the Australia cruises are lacking some of the things that are expected on US port sailings.
Overall, we had a really nice trip. We got a well priced upgrade to the Grand Suite, and really enjoyed the experience.