Our cruise from Shanghai to Korea was mixed. The Royal Caribbean home offices really dropped the ball with poor communication. Fortunately their shortfall was made up for by the ship's crew. Let me explain.
First, a word about us. We are United States ex-patriots living and working in Shanghai, China. We are experienced cruisers and are Diamond members with Royal Caribbean. Our goal for this trip was a simple get away with a good food supply and air conditioning. Throughout the Spring we monitored the Royal Caribbean website for cruises in Asia. There were a number of them listed in March for the Summer season. For some reason they became blacked out. I had assumed it was because of the uncertainty of the tensions with North Korea and what military action might be happening in the region. I telephoned the Royal Caribbean offices in Miami but they had no information to offer. In April the bookings opened up again and we booked a five night cruise directly on the Royal Caribbean website for a cruise out of Shanghai to South Korea.
We began receiving emails from Royal Caribbean to book our shore excursions, etc. Every time I tried to do that through the web site it would not allow it. A week before departure I was able to reserve My Time Dining. The following day it was canceled without explanation. I was again able to book My Time Dining but no shore excursions or wine packages were available to book online.
Check in at the Shanghai pier was quick. We had to wait for the security line to open at 12:30 PM. Waiting in line we noticed we were the only Caucasians in the terminal. This is when we began to discover the little differences about this cruise. While not officially a charter cruise, it is heavily sold through Chinese group tour operators. We later came to find out of the roughly 3,400 passengers on board there were four people from Spain, two from Australia and two from the United States (us).
This is Royal Caribbean's second year in the Asia market and has made some changes to its operations. Let me cite of few of those changes.
1. The Concierge Club on deck 9 has been closed and combined with the Diamond Club on deck 14. The benefit to us on this trip was rather than just the usual beer and wine we were offered any drinks from the adjoining Jazz Club bar. Very few cruisers took advantage of the Club and many nights we had it to ourselves.
2. There is no My Time Dining offered on the Asia cruises. Even though my Sea Pass card lists my time dining, you must select a first or second seating. It seems like the home office should realize this and not send out emails reminding you to sign up for it.
3. The food has been changed slightly to accommodate Asian tastes. The meat we had was all excellent.
4. The casino has been modified to accommodate Asian tastes. Video poker and craps have been removed to make room for games more popular in Asia. And beware if you play blackjack, the Chinese to not follow basic strategy at all. I experienced many frustrating hands such as splitting a pair of tens against a dealer six. I also saw someone split a blackjack.
5. Chinese will not drink in front of their children, hence several bars were closed all together. Later in taking with the Food and Beverage Director he informed us that he had cut the bar staff in half.
6. We did order a wine package which created confusion among the wait staff. First we were told wine packages were not sold on this cruise. We informed them we purchased the package aboard ship. What we were offered was either a three or four bottle package with limited selection. The wait staff was unfamiliar with this and allowed us to select anything off of the five and seven bottle selection which worked to our advantage.
7. The first season the entertainment on board switched to Chinese style entertainment, i.e. acrobats, etc. The Chinese audience wanted Western style entertainment which has returned. This cruise had a specialty act of vocalists who sang in English and Mandarin. The production show was very good and the ice show excellent. Unfortunately the Chinese audience will continue to talk out loud to each other during performances.
The crew really went out of their way to ensure we were having a good time. Cruise Director Jimmy snuck us in the back door of the ice show to make sure we got a good seat. Many of the ships officer's stopped by the Diamond Club to check in on us. The Hotel Director sent champagne to our room. When I mentioned I could not find bananas at breakfast the Food and Beverage Director brought me a plate of them.
I understand Royal Caribbean's desire to enter a new market they also need to continue to pay attention to their existing market. Anyone booking directly through the Royal Caribbean website should receive an email that the Asia cruises will be a little different than a standard cruise.