Considering the luxury experience and the six-star rating it advertises and considering the high prices it charges, we expected only the best from Radisson (and had enjoyed ourselves very much on two prior, one-week Radisson Mariner cruises). Flaws that can be accepted from mass-market cruise lines should be the rare exception on a luxury line. When measured against these standards, on the whole, Radisson and Voyager did not measure up on this cruise.
While many aspects of the cruise met at least a five-star standard and some were easily six-star standard, the overall cruise did not provide a truly luxury cruise experience – I would only give it four stars overall. The overwhelming shortcomings to this cruise were the senior on-board hotel staff, the arbitrary changes to an exciting itinerary, and the inconsistent dining.
Let’s start with my expectations and biases. A cruise line (or anyone else) should provide the product advertised. While some “puffery” is to be expected, and while there can be quibbling over the quality of any aspect of a cruise, the product as a whole should measure up to the advertising. On a “luxury line,” I expect (a) consistently excellent continental cuisine, (b) a responsive staff prepared to provide a luxury experience at all levels and to deal with problems quickly and professionally; (c) modern and clean staterooms, (c) well-appointed public areas; (d) unobtrusive service; (e) high quality lecturers, activities, and musical programs; (f) efficient boarding, cabins ready at embarkation; (g) no lining up and waiting for tenders, etc. Where I have not commented here, this ship and line met those expectations fully (e.g., cleanliness, efficient and easy boarding, etc.).
The Positive about this cruise. (1) This ship. It is well-designed, new, clean, comfortable, and quite attractive. It is very much in the mold of the new cruise ships (multi-story atrium, etc.) It is clean and very well maintained. The cabins are unusually large and well designed, including a walk-in closet (maid service is excellent). Cabins below the penthouse level are larger and more comfortable than similar accommodations on other lines. The public spaces are attractive and, with a couple of minor exceptions, comfortable and functional.
(2) The junior staff (waiters, room stewardesses, bar attendants, etc.) were competent, pleasant, and conversant in English (staffing changes in the last few months may have put this into question). They generally knew what they were doing and worked hard to please. The maintenance staff likewise seemed generally competent, although several requests for repairs (including a ventilation problem) went unanswered for more than 36 hours.
(3) The Tour Office staff was exceptional. The three people did an outstanding job of handling ship’s tours and private tour arrangements, with unfailing good humor, efficiency, and accuracy. This was particularly difficult in the face of a constantly changing itinerary (see below).
(4) Single seating dining and open seating dining are big pluses. The single-seat dining provides much more relaxed, enjoyable dining. While passengers seem to settle in to an individual table after a day or two (a few of them did try to lay claim to window tables), it is nice to have the option of sitting where you want and with whom you want. Service is usually well-paced and there is no pressure to finish so that the next seating can be set up.
(5) The inclusion of wine in the dining room in the cruise price is e welcome touch. It is nice not to be nickel-and-dimed and it is nice not to have to worry about signing the chit every night. (The downside, one waiter confided, is that the policy of including wine and drinks seems to consistently attract a certain type of passenger who overdoes the alcohol, especially on cruises of less than 14 days. We did see a couple of instances.)
(6) The port lecturer.
(7) Latitudes Restaurant. It was too small and crowded for the number of passengers they seated the one night I was able to eat there. This is an almost trivial comment because - although contrived - the theme concept was very well carried-out. The credit for that goes to the exuberant, young, and completely charming serving staff. They made us feel like they were putting on a private theme dinner party for a group of close friends, that they really cared that it be a complete success, and that they did everything possible to make it so. The food, too, was very enjoyable. This was one of the few occasions on this cruise that I felt that I was having a truly good time and that the cruise line really wanted me to have that good time.
(8) The advertised itinerary for this trip, Singapore to Tokyo, segments of the 2004 world cruise (actually “Circle Pacific” Cruise), was exciting and enticing.
The Negative: (1) RSSC chose to disregard that exciting itinerary. One port (Hong Kong) was extended by a day, two port days were changed altogether, two port stops were shortened (one of them by about 12 hours and one by about 5), and one stop was eliminated altogether. (One additional port was missed because of bad weather.) There were no weather problems or terrorism concerns to justify any one of those unexplained changes. While the schedule changes were bad enough, Radisson compounded the problem. Passenger questions/complaints about these changes were given short shrift by senior staff. As one senior official in the hotel department said to me when I asked what was going on, and this is a direct quote, “We can do whatever we want."
While several of the changes were decided by Radisson management days in advance (including changing of two port days), none of them were announced until the last minute. As a result, several passengers missed out some on private sight-seeing that they had arranged. Personally, we missed the opportunity to see a former colleague and friend who only had one day available to see us. Passengers deserve the cruise paid for. When Radisson elected not to deliver that cruise, we deserved two things. First, we deserved prompt notification of the changes. Second, we deserved a clear and compelling explanation for divergence from the schedule or some form of restitution and/or apology. Radisson provided neither.
(2) Senior staff problems and attitudes were not limited to the attitude about the schedule. Several of the senior staff on the hotel side, newly promoted to their positions, neither knew nor were prepared for their new jobs and at least one did not seem to care. Senior staff members were not respected by junior staff, although junior staff members were clearly terrified of several of them. Senior staff was generally inaccessible - no response to phone messages, not in their offices or on deck, etc.; the only time that the Hotel Manager’s office door was ever open were the days that the President of the company was on board. This is also true on land – Radisson’s customer relations person in Florida did not return any one of my four post-cruise telephone calls. Any request other than the most routine was frowned on (and I am not talking about Travel Spies nonsense) and, from what I saw, was not acted on.
(3) The overall impression was that the ship was not being run with passenger satisfaction as the goal, but rather that it was run for the convenience of management. Note that I did not have this impression of Radisson on two prior cruises on Mariner. This is the first and only cruise on which I felt that I was merely along for the ride.
(4) Dining room food quality and service were inconsistent, lurching from very good at some meals to very mediocre at others. Some nights the dining room was excellent in all respects but, on just as many other nights, it was no better than “good” overall. There were too many lapses – some main dishes were tasteless, particularly meat and poultry (tasteless grilled salmon one night). Oddly, the dining room was consistently better at lunch than at dinner. The service on several nights was painfully slow - 25 minutes wait for the order to be taken one night with no head waiter or maitre d’ in sight and bickering waiters another night. While an occasional mistake or oversight is to be expected, the mistakes were too frequent for a luxury cruise (and the ship was no more than about 60 percent full during this segment).
(5) Of the two nights I ate in Signatures Restaurant, one night was truly very good. The food was well-prepared and attractively and attentively presented and service was perfect. The food on the other night, unfortunately, even with the identical menu, arrived bland and overcooked.
(6) There is far too much vibration on this new ship, particularly in the aft portion when the ship is trying to go fast (above about 20 knots) – unfortunately very noticeable in my cabin. It took four days of requests to be moved to a vacant cabin of the same category. Several other passengers also said that they asked to be moved because of it. Once again, when I first asked what was happening and whether the problem would be fixed or whether we could be moved, the same senior staff member simply dismissed me: “All ships vibrate.” The bottom line is simple, if you go on the Voyager, do not get a cabin in the aft portion of the ship.
(7) The dance floor in the Lounge is too small - you can't dance on a postage stamp regardless of whether you prefer rock or ballroom. Forget about line dancing.
(8) The art auctions. The quality of the "art" was poor (aside from there being just too many mediocre prints of famous pictures) and was too “mass market.” It clutters up, cheapens, and detracts from otherwise enjoyable and usable public spaces. Please, let's get rid of art auctions . . . and not just on this ship and this line.
(9) Entertainment. Maddeningly inconsistent. The Broadway reviews, comedians, etc. were interchangeable with any other line. The music at the shows was always too loud. There was one very fine classical performer.
(10) Passenger evaluation cards are insufficient. They are not designed to uncover deficiencies in performance but seemed designed to elicit favorable reviews. Radisson needs to ask about quality issues, including staff attitudes and responsiveness and knowledge of their jobs, not just about such things as timeliness of baggage handling and whether the bartender smiled. None of the questions on the evaluation picked up the staff problems or the itinerary problems noted above. Second, evaluation cards must be anonymous to be valid. Third, if evaluations are to be taken seriously, there should be a section not just for “comments,” but there should be a meaningful attempt to elicit specific praise, complaints, and suggestions for improvement (examples, “Please tell us what you liked about the entertainment” “Please tell use how we might improve the entertainment?” “Please tell us what you disliked on this cruise?” “Please give us three suggestions for things you would like to see on our cruises or activities you would like us to add. Please tell us three things we should eliminate.”).
SUMMARY – The cruise overall was very mixed. Those things that were done well were exactly as one would expect from a luxury line. However, they were overshadowed by the negative – and, what is worse is that there was absolutely no need for any of the negative to have occurred. Itinerary changes where necessary because of weather or security – and when reasonably announced in advance – are a part of cruising. However, I cannot accept either the arbitrary changes on this cruise or the disdainful attitude of the senior staff and management on this and other issues.