RCI's Voyager of the Seas Review
From 23 November to 7 December 2013, my wife and I (both Australians, regular cruisers, in our mid to late 50s) cruised with Royal Caribbean International on the Voyager of the Seas, from Sydney, Australia, to New Zealand, and returned to Sydney via Melbourne. We had an ocean-view cabin, with an outside balcony, on the port side of Deck 6, closer to the bow and forward lifts/elevators.
My wife and I found Voyager of the Seas to be a lovely ship and almost all of her crew were very polite, helpful and friendly; even the (usually unfriendly) security staff. Voyager is full of terrific features, but perhaps the best feature is the Royal Promenade on Deck 5, which is a long, 4-deck high atrium that emulates a typical British street. It includes a traditional English pub, 'The Pig and Whistle', a Sportsmen's Bar (Scoreboard), British telephone box, the CEO's red, Morgan sports car, and several shops (that are not so good; see below). Of course being such a large ship, there are many other features and facilities on board, some of which are mentioned in this review. Both my wife and I - as well as many other passengers that we spoke with during our cruise - were very impressed with Voyager of the Seas, and we would certainly return for another cruise on her, in a heartbeat.
The food was excellent in the main dining room at all meals, but not quite as good in the Windjammer buffet restaurant, although there was certainly plenty of variety, and we always found something to eat that we liked. However often large crowds made it impossible to find an empty seat in the Windjammer, which required frequent announcements to ask people to share tables and to move on after dining.
In some minor ways the ship is getting a little bit dated and starting to look a little bit 'tired' (especially some of the carpets), but I believe she is due for refurbishment in September 2014, which should return her to an almost new condition.
There were so many positives that it would take forever to list them all here, but I'll try to cover some of the things, in no particular order, that left an excellent impression on me:
* Embarkation on Day 1, at Circular Quay, Sydney, Australia, was surprisingly quick and easy. It only took us about 15 minutes from Bag Drop to actually boarding the ship. Note that we are Gold Crown & Anchor members (some passengers took much longer to get through however);
* We were able to access our cabins by early afternoon and most passengers (but not all) had their suitcases waiting outside their cabins before 4pm. I learned later that boarding for some passengers was a nightmare and that quite a few did not recieve their luggage until after 11pm (but not us, I'm happy to say);
* The Royal Promenade is a wonderful and innovative idea, which we thoroughly enjoyed, as did many other passengers on board. It was terrific sitting with a drink, in the English pub or in the coffee shop, listening to the delightful (mostly reggae) music of 'Vibes Nation' and watching the 'world' go by;
* Kettles/tea making facilities in all cabins (possibly for the first time on an RCI cruise ship, to my knowledge) was a wonderful bonus - I only wish it was standard;
* The on board (free) coffee machines produce a reasonably tasty cup of brewed coffee, which we've found to not always be the case on other RCI (and in fact, most US) cruise ships;
* Cabins are very well designed and ours had everything we needed, however there were a couple of minor problems (see below, in Negatives);
* Plenty of open decks for viewing the scenery, especially during entry & exit from ports of call;
* The ship's decor is wonderful, although perhaps a little 'tired' - especially some of the carpets (but as mentioned earlier, Voyager may be due for refurbishment in September, 2014);
* The ship's large, hanging art works, sculptures, Egyptian decorations, numerous items in display cabinets, tapestries, etc. are all excellent;
* Some of the shows I saw, in the La Scala Theatre, were first class; including: Danny Elliott, the extremely talented, multi-instrumentalist & vocalist from Australia; the Boys in the Band, from Australia, and Murray Raine, the puppeteer from Australia. The ship's singers and dancers were also very good, especially in the shows on the Royal Promenade, such as the 'Island Frenzy Parade'; and some of the other on board entertainment was fantastic, like "Vibes Nation";
* The 'Ice Odyssey' Show (of 47 minutes duration) was absolutely amazing and certainly not to be missed. Starring talented ice skaters from various countries, it's a very professional spectacular on ice; something I've never seen before on a cruise ship;
* Repeat customers (Crown & Anchor members) received a very special, surprise treat, with the usual function, but it also included a preview of the ice skating show (thank you RCI, that was wonderful and very much appreciated);
* Our Cruise Critic Meet & Mingle was hosted by the ship's Activities Director, Chris, with lots of lucky door prizes provided by RCI (which I didn't win!), but sadly very few CCers bothered to actually meet and mingle with other CCers. I thought that was the whole point of an M&M!!!;
* A nice mini-golf (or putt-putt) course, although I didn't get to play a round of golf;
* The ship also offers in-line skating, numerous games machines, table tennis, rock climbing, basketball, board games and many other games & activities for teenagers;
* Use of the ship's thermal suite facilities (sauna, steam room & spa) is free of charge, which is terrific, except that they are segregated, not mixed gender (which isn't so good, compared with Radiance of the Seas' 'Thermal Suite', or Celebrity's 'Persian Gardens', or P&O's 'AquaSpa Thermal Suite' for example);
* The parades and 70s Disco on the Royal Promenade are spectacular, especially the Island Frenzy Parade, and the guest appearances by larger-than-life, DreamWorks' characters from Shrek and other shows amused all the children - and even me (although I had thought this would be off-putting due to my older age - but not so!);
* Guests in the inside cabins on Decks 6, 7 and 8, which looked out over the Royal Promenade seemed to be very happy with their views of all the activities below, although some complained that they couldn't hear the action. An in-room speaker, with ON/OFF/Volume control would be a great idea for those cabins, I think;
* The service I received in our cabin, dining rooms, bars, lounges, Guest Relations Desk, Future Cruise Desk and elsewhere around the ship was excellent, and in my opinion, even better than the (usually very good) service on most ships that I've cruised on;
* Even the (usually unfriendly) security staff that you find on most ships, were friendly and polite and had warm smiles; although I'm quite sure they could be very firm and unfriendly if they needed to be! You get the impression that they'd treat you as innocent, unless they found you guilty (rather than guilty until proven innocent);
* Voyager handled the fairly rough seas very well, due to her 4 stabilisers and U-shaped hull; but strong winds do play havoc on her, due to the sail-like effect of her huge, 14 deck superstructure; as we discovered when we couldn't get into the port of Dunedin, NZ;
* We always managed to get a seat for breakfast or lunch, in the magnificent, three-level, Main Dining Room (on Decks 3, 4 & 5), whenever we chose to dine there - rather than in Windjammer; and all our meals there were delicious and nicely presented by very friendly staff;
* Our Cruise Director, Luke Aerowsmith (from the UK originally) was one of the best cruise directors I've encountered and he had a wonderful sense of humour. I was particularly impressed by his 'home-made' videos, broadcast from time to time on Channel 14 (especially his remake of the Titanic movie and his (fake) ad for the Sounds of the Seas CD);
* Disembarkation could not have been easier, nor quicker. Ship side, it was a bit ridiculous having to go down to Deck 3 with all our carry-on luggage, to wait in Studio B, only to be told to go back up the stairs to Deck 4 to get off the ship; but shore side, we found our suitcases within 2 minutes and were through Australian Immigration and Customs within 3 minutes. All up, it took about 5 minutes from leaving the ship to exiting the OPT, which was even quicker than embarkation! Well done to all concerned.
Although the positives far outweighed the negatives for my wife and I, there were still some things that were not quite right, or which could be improved. Among these are:
* We had no problems with this, but sadly, many passengers told us about their waterlogged suitcases, with drenched items & clothing inside, as their luggage must have been left on the wharf (on open pallets) when a massive rainstorm hit Sydney, prior to sailing;
* Despite having a small (0.8 litre) kettle in all cabins - thank you & well done RCI, no coffee sachets were available on the ship (not even for purchase). Only a good variety of tea blends ('First Tea' brand) in sachets were available, although several tea drinkers on board complained about the taste (or lack thereof). Still, it was much better than nothing! Also, hot chocolate (Nestle dark chocolate hot cocoa mix 20g) sachets were freely available on board, which is terrific;
* Voyager's excellent crew was let down by the ship's photographic section. They were quite rude, pushy and very unprofessional, and their charges were exorbitant (at $25 per photo)! My wife was hurt, when she was physically pushed out of the way once by a ship's photographer as he rushed to get a photo (I also took his photo!), and they told us that we were not allowed to use our own cameras to take photos! They lost many photos (not only a couple of our photos, but we heard many other passengers complain about this too); then, when we asked them to reprint one photo, they reprinted two (2) sets of all our photos and tried to charge us twice! We were shocked that before we could even select any photos, we had to pay a ridiculous $US 75.00 deposit;
* At times, especially on cold or wet sea days, all the bars and lounges were full to overflowing, and it was occasionally impossible to find a place to sit anywhere on the ship (apart from in your own cabin), let alone being able to get to a bar to even buy a drink;
* The adults-only Solarium is wonderful, except when it gets wet and/or windy. Everything was blowing around, drinks spilled, glasses blown away, and clothing was scattered all over. It really needs to be covered, either with an opening roof (vergola), or a permanent roof (as on Radiance of the Seas);
* If one person in the cabin was asleep, it was impossible not to disturb them when the other person wanted to get anything out of the wardrobe, or go to the bathroom. The partition curtain is too narrow (only 70cm or 2'3" wide) and is not able to block any light from the bed. Also, the arrangement of the cabin lighting, with no individual switches, means that in order to be able to see inside the wardrobe, it is necessary to turn on all four (4) cabin lights & one (1) long fluorescent tube. The entrance light (at least) needs to be independent of the other overhead cabin lights and the light above the 2-seater lounge should also be independently controlled, but it's not;
* There is an OHS hazard in the change rooms of the fitness centre. The top row of lockers can't be reached unless you stand, in bare feet, on the wet, slippery bench. All it would take would be a sudden list to port or starboard and you could come falling down and possibly break some bones (I reported this & hopefully it will be fixed soon);
* There are only two (2) sets of passenger lifts/elevators - 6 lifts forward and 8 lifts aft, a total of 14 lifts in all (the crew has their own, out-of-sight lifts). Normally this was sufficient, but at times there were very long waits for lifts, up to 15 minutes, especially during port calls, show times, meal times and special events. It certainly didn't help either, when uncontrolled children got into the lifts and pressed all the buttons for every deck;
* Disembarkation at smaller ports was often disorganised and (unnecessarily) very slow. It took us almost one (1) hour to disembark at Auckland and 45 minutes at Napier, due to the very long queues/lines and confusion on the wharves. This need not have been the case if they had given it a bit more thought beforehand - and I did offer them some simple suggestions for improvement;
* Arriving at a port at 3pm is ridiculous. There was no need for this, at Auckland, and by the time we finally got ashore (over one hour later), the shops and all tourist facilities (like the museums and hop-on hop-off buses) were just about to close or wrap-up for the day;
* Due to the smaller size of the ice rink (Studio B), numbers are limited at each performance. This generated 'panic' (for want of another word) by some of those attending. Long queues/lines formed, with some pushing & shoving, and with people trying to queue-jump. There was also anger and even yelling by some passengers (although most passengers were well-mannered and patient). This nastiness could easily have been avoided by simple crowd control methods, such as roped-off lanes, and preferably overseen by crew members, prior to the ice shows;
* Despite having a switch & volume control in our cabin, for any PA announcements, we could not hear any important and useful announcements in our cabin unless we opened our cabin door. On some occasions we could only hear them from outside, on our balcony. This doesn't include urgent messages, about missing passengers, fire drills, etc., which were audible over the in-cabin speaker. However for the useful messages that we would have liked to hear, we couldn't. I would have preferred to have the option with those, to listen or not. For example, we couldn't hear the excellent commentary about the three Sounds/fiords (Dusky, Doubtful & Milford) without wedging our cabin door open;
* We found the on board shops to be quite average to poor. Most of the shop staff (although not all) were friendly and helpful, but the shops had a limited range of goods, and sizes that clearly did not fit the vast majority of the passengers (there was a lot of XS, or Extra Small, sized clothing, for example, and only a miniscule number of Extra Small passengers on board!). Radiance of the Seas offers a much better range of shopping and more variety, while P&O (Australia) offers far more choice and variety again, with items such as potato crisps, lollies/candies, ladies' hygiene products, etc.; none of which could be found on Voyager, which is more focused on selling alcohol, cigarettes, watches, handbags, jewellery, perfumes, ladies clothing and a limited range of RCI and Voyager memorabilia. I did eventually manage to find some essentials, like suntan lotion, toothpaste and toothbrushes, etc. hidden away in the alcohol shop (of course, where else?);
* We missed out on the port of Dunedin, New Zealand, which was nobody's fault. The weather was atrocious and it was too dangerous to enter the passage leading to Port Chalmers. P&O's Pacific Pearl, which was also due in to the same port with us, also gave Dunedin a big miss (we felt so sorry for the locals there that day). Unfortunately this meant that we had no ports of call on the South Island of New Zealand. However, I was very impressed by the constant updates, the apologies and the detailed explanation by our friendly Captain (Captain Sverre Ryan), Cruise Director (Luke Aerowsmith) and the Local Pilot (which was broadcast on the ship's TV) as to exactly why it was too risky to go into the narrow channel. Even so, we lingered around the region for several hours, just in case the weather changed, which sadly didn't happen. So although a negative, I believe it was very well handled, totally unavoidable and no one's fault.
I really enjoyed my cruise on RCI's Voyager of the Seas and I would highly recommend it to anyone wanting to experience a larger ship (of course there are a few ships that are bigger again!). The accommodation was excellent, the ship's facilities were fantastic (although a bit crowded at times), the food was absolutely delicious, the crew/staff members were polite, friendly, helpful, and their service was fantastic (with the exception of the ship's photographic staff). Entertainment on the ship was overall, of a very high standard. New Zealand is a lovely country to visit, and very tourist-friendly; although I was disappointed that we didn't get to see much of the South Island, other than the three (3), magnificent Sounds.
Thank you Royal Caribbean; we hope to come back again to Voyager, after we try out Rhapsody of the Seas, early next year (2014).
Regards, "Grey Funnel" (9 Dec 2013)