Embarkation: Our scheduled embarkation time was 1:30pm but we arrived quite early at 11am. We would have been happy to sit around and wait until our allocated time, but the staff were more than happy to let us board early and embarkation was extremely smooth. We were on board within about 15 minutes of walking into the terminal - very impressive and a good start to the cruise.
We pretty much headed straight to the Windjammer as we couldn't access our room until 1pm. It was quite empty at that time and we got a nice table at the back of the ship overlooking Circular Quay and the city, a very nice view. First impressions of the food for my friend (first time cruiser) and I was that it was pretty average. It is a step down from Celebrity which is to be expected, but I think I still had my expectations set a little high. It wasn't bad by any means but very American style and a bit bland. Free drinks at the Windjammer include water, iced tea, lemonade and sometimes a raspberry cordial type drink. The lemonade was very nice - something to consider if you are thinking about getting a soda pack. We didn't get one and have no regrets as we found the free drinks to be more than sufficient.
We had an interior room and on deck 9 aft. Great location as Windjammer and the pool deck are a short walk 2 decks up. We tended to spend more time on the upper decks so it worked well for us. If you are going to spend more time at the Royal Promenade it would make more sense to get a cabin on a lower deck, as the elevators can be painfully slow and tend to be packed. That was one thing we found annoying about the ship - because it is so big (15 decks) you really do need to use the elevators a lot and you will spend a lot of time waiting for them. Overall our room was very nice. It had a flatscreen TV which we weren't expecting and was very clean. Our cabin attendant was excellent.
Seeing as I've already mentioned the food at Windjammer, I'll just briefly mention the crowds. I would recommend getting to breakfast either early or late, as if you go around 9-10 you will struggle to find a table (many people give up and just take their food outside onto the pool deck). If you go at 8-9 or 10-1030 you can usually find a table pretty easily. The staff at Windjammer were very good (the greeter lady out the front saying good morning was particularly friendly), and plates were cleared quickly and with a smile.
On the last few days of the cruise the Windjammer started to run out of English Breakfast tea, so we started getting Twinings one day which was good, and then a different type of Lipton tea that I suspect was from the crew supplies the next day. Not a big deal, but I think RCI needs to tailor their ordering for the Australian market a bit better. By the last few days of the cruise most, if not all of the bars also ran out of cans of Coke.
Our MDR experience wasn't so great as our server was quite cold. She took down our names on our first night dining there but never called us by them. She would take our orders and put the plates on our table without saying a word. She did open up a bit on the second last night, which coincidentally was the night the guest satisfaction cards were handed out. However most of her talking consisted of telling us how important it is to rate the MDR service as 'excellent'. This was followed up the next night by making sure we had rated the MDR service as 'excellent'. We didn't appreciate the pushy attitude and found it very unprofessional. On a happier note our assistant waiter was amazing (Yao from China). He made an effort to talk to us and basically did the job of our main waiter. We gave him an extra tip at the end (on top of our prepaid gratuity) because he was so nice and very professional. We found the food at the MDR to be generally very good, with a varied menu.
I would recommend against lunch at the MDR however as the menu seemed to be the same every day. If you get there early in the service we found that the food would be old, as if it had been sitting under a heat lamp for a long time, so it was basically inedible which was really disappointing. I'd recommend the Windjammer for lunch because the food is fresher and also because there's a much wider range of options.
On the first night we were told by some other guests that spaces at Portofino were filling up fast and that only the last night of the cruise had bookings available (apparently they were told this by Portofino staff). We went over to make a booking on the day 2 and had no trouble securing one - there seemed to be many available in contradiction to what we had been told. When we went to Portofino a few nights later they had apparently lost our booking, but they found us a table quickly anyway. In fact, half the restaurant seemed to be empty. Although many people had been raving about the food we found it to be just okay and probably not worth the $20 premium over the MDR food. We did find the service to be excellent however, certainly better than at the MDR.
Johnny Rockets was fun and very good value at $5 for unlimited food. Keep in mind a shake will set you back $5.25, but they are very good (3 scoops of ice cream in each one). The staff were really friendly and accommodating, however food took a long time to come out despite it being pretty simple fare (burgers, fries, etc) which I thought was odd. Overall a cool experience, and I would recommend going at least once just to check it out.
Rock climbing - very fun and if you go at the right time (about 30 mins before closing, around 5:30pm) you often don't have to wait at all. Ice skating - again pretty good, although you may have to wait a while. Heaps of kids on the rink though so you can't really go very fast. In-line skating - a bit lame as the track is extremely short. Mini golf - not bad, pretty boring course though. By the last few days of the cruise there was about two balls left, as there was a lot of out of control teenagers around who I suspect were stealing the balls or throwing them overboard (I'll talk about this a bit more later). Table tennis - old tables that are nearly falling apart, and only two of them. This is a popular activity so it was basically always being used, it would be good if they got a few more tables. I think that's about all the activities I can think of. Overall quite good though and better than any other ship I have been on for this sort of stuff.
I was a little disappointed by the indoor activities offerings, because it seemed like so many of the things in the Cruise Compass are designed to make money rather than to entertain guests. E.g. every day there will be like 5 or more 'seminars' at the day spa. One of our friends went and said that there was actually no seminar on, it was basically just a consultation to try and get you to buy products/services from the spa. Unless you're big on gambling or trivia there really isn't that much to do in the way of indoor activities. There was a distinct lack of lectures, whether on intellectual topics or just on the ports of call. I can only recall one lecture which was titled 'How to keep your mind sharp as a tack', pretty clearly targeted at the oldies so of no interest to us. Bingo was $22 for a mini card (3 chances on 4 games) or $32 for a regular card (6 chances on 4 games). Unfortunately the bingo host went very fast and tended to just read out the numbers, and didn't make too many jokes which I enjoy. As a result it only went for like 30 minutes (if that). We were surprised that the prizes for trivia were quite stingy, stuff like RCI keychains. I know the point is to have fun etc but surely they can do a little better, e.g. a drink voucher or something? I remember on Celebrity they would give away thermoses and such, stuff that's actually useful.
The only port we went to was Noumea, as Fiji had to be cancelled due to an engine problem. Credit to RCI and the cruise director as I thought communication about the issue was very good. The captain and engineer even made a video that was played on the TVs to explain in technical detail about what was wrong with the ship. Every guest was offered a credit of 40% of what they paid for this cruise to go toward a future cruise which I though was very generous too. Docking at Noumea is at a container port, and you have to catch a bus to the town. Honestly we didn't really enjoy Noumea at all. We found that there wasn't much to do and that the people weren't particularly friendly. The beaches were quite unpleasant (very small, rocky sand and lots of sea snakes) and shopping is expensive. I would recommend going to the supermarket opposite the cruise terminal and buying some of the really nice French bread and cheese, and have a picnic for something to do. If you're thinking of buying the train tour shore excursion, don't - you can get the same thing in the cruise terminal for $20 (RCI sells it on board for $59 or something ridiculous like that).
The ice skating show was really good, and I would highly recommend going. It was by far the best show on the cruise and the skaters are very talented. As for the rest, it was typical cruise ship entertainment including a magician one night, a singer another night, and the orchestra/dancers on others. Nothing stood out as great but all the shows we saw were relatively entertaining.
We really liked the Solarium area which was for adults only. The pool was nice, and the water always very warm. Never had any problems finding a lounge around the pool or getting a spot in the jacuzzi which was great and impressive for a ship with this many passengers. The main pool area was of course packed with kids so we stayed away from it. I did try it once and made the mistake of swimming with my eyes open. They must have just added a bunch of chlorine because my eyes burned and turned really red, I basically had to run to the bathroom to wash them out. I think they really should close the pool if they're going to be adding so much chlorine.
We purposely chose a cruise in February as school had gone back (hoping to avoid lots of kids) but for some reason there seemed to be a lot anyway. There was a lot of rowdy teenagers who would take over public spaces, mess up the furniture and just generally act like they owned the place, e.g. being very rude/demanding to the staff at Cafe Promenade, basically having no respect for crew or fellow passengers. It's a shame the parents didn't take more responsibility/control over their kids. Of course this isn't RCI's fault, but if you are very sensitive to having lots of kids or teenagers around I'd recommend spending the extra $ to go on Celebrity.
The ship is in good condition and has some great facilities. Personally I found the ship a bit too big - I like the feeling of knowing I'm at sea (ocean views from inside lounges, being able to feel the ship rolling) and this was lost a bit on the Voyager. Having said that if you're a first time cruiser, or prone to sea sickness it would be perfect for you as you can sit in the Royal Promenade and you could literally be anywhere (it's basically like being in a shopping centre).The peek-a-boo bridge is a great idea, as is being able to walk right up to the front of the ship which is relatively rare on other cruise ships. The High Notes bar at the top of the ship is a good place to have a quiet drink or just to relax as it's usually pretty empty. The CD Graham Seymour was very energetic and did a great job at keeping morale high despite missing a port.
Very quick and smooth. RCI provides pastries and coffees in the disembarkation lounges which I thought was a nice touch too.
Would I cruise with RCI again? Yes, but I would like to try a smaller ship such as the Radiance. If it were a matter of a few hundred dollars extra for the same itinerary I would however prefer to cruise with Celebrity for the better food and indoor activities, and fewer kids. Overall though we had a very good time and for what we paid this cruise was excellent value.