Because I don't want to struggle with luggage or porters, and because my cruises are typically portions of longer trips, I travel light and carry my own bags on and off a ship. I never carry a suit or even a jacket and tie, let alone a tuxedo. I therefore appreciate Holland America's policy of serving in the cafeteria lobster or whatever else is served in the dining room on formal nights, so that people like me don't have to settle for an inferior meal.
Norwegian Cruise Line's "free-style cruising" is even better for me: passengers need never dress up if they don't want to, and they may eat when they wish in any of the main dining rooms, no assigned times or tables, and I've found Norwegian's accommodations and food to be just as good as on Holland America and provided in a less formal atmosphere that I enjoy more.
Not so with Royal Caribbean International, which is why my November 2010 trans-Atlantic cruise on its Voyager of the Seas was my first and last cruise on that line.
Although I had paid, like every other passenger, for the lobster served in the dining room on a formal night, I had to settle for a distinctly inferior meal in the cafeteria because I chose not to dress up, which made me feel cheated. (A waiter told me that lobster was not served in the cafeteria because it is expensive and people would eat too much of it.) I am mostly a non-meat eater, and in the cafeteria on formal nights the chicken breasts were dried out and fish was not always available. One night a seafood paella was the only non-meat dish available, but it contained calamari, which I do not eat. Mashed potato was usually the best steam-table item available, but one night when I had to eat in the cafeteria it was so salty that I could not eat it.
The quality of the food in the dining room on non-formal nights varied: it was not unusual for one or more persons at my table of eight to reject the entree that they had ordered (a substitute was always cheerfully provided). The emphasis seemed to be on presentation: grilled shrimp were beautiful and skilfully removed from their shells by the expert waiter, but they had the taste and consistency of cardboard. Eggs Benedict were not worth going to the dining room for: overcooked and loaded with salt. Breakfasts in the cafeteria were entirely adequate--and the made-to-order omelets were excellent--but the ship ran out of peanut butter, raisin bran, and bananas, staples in my diet. Desserts in both the dining room and cafeteria were excellent, the best food items that the ship provided.
Seating in the dining rooms was at an early 5:30 or a late 8:30 p.m. Passengers could utilize the ship's "my time" option to dine at other times, but that required payment in advance of the full gratuities recommended for the cruise. These were "gratuities" in name only, as they were not voluntarily given or dependent upon service received, but required for "my time" dining. All passengers were urged every day to pay their full "gratuities" in advance.
The Voyager's library was unattended and had no reference materials, not even a dictionary or atlas, and no non-fiction books, only novels. Unobstructed views of the screen in the poorly-designed movie theater were available only to those who sat in the front row, sat in aisle seats and leaned out, or sat on the floor in the aisle. The most outstanding feature of the much-touted ice show was that it was on a ship.
My single-occupancy cabin was fine, but service only so-so. Access to the window was blocked by a large bed, and it took three requests to get it changed. Ditto for having the minibar emptied. The minibar would not keep water cold and the ship only provides ice water by the glass from room service, for which a tip is expected. A bucket of ice was left in my cabin most days, but the lid lacked a handle, requiring me to use my fingernails to remove it, and it was not replaced until I left a note about it. I removed the duvet from my bed each night, only to have the attendant replace it, until I left a note asking that he not do that. I tried unsuccessfully to hide the useless, purely decorative scarf placed on my bed each day.
The last straw for me was right-wing Fox News as the only "news" available on the ship's TV after the fourth day of the cruise. The ship plainly could have provided CNN or CNN International if it had wanted to do so. This led me to conclude that Royal Caribbean caters to political conservatives, which leaves me out. This conclusion was reinforced by the fact that, though not personally important to me, both Holland America and Norwegian list LGBT get-togethers on their daily calendars, but Royal Caribbean does not.
Most frustrating for me was the fact that because the cruise was an event for an RV organization that I belong to, I made my booking through their travel agent, instead of directly with the cruise line, and the travel agent then refused to sell me a transfer from the ship's pier in Galveston, Texas, to Houston's International Airport because I had not purchased a flight from Houston on arrival day but was going there to pick up a rental car, and Royal Caribbean insisted that they could not sell me a transfer because I had to go through my travel agent! The agent said that I could buy a transfer on the ship without the flight requirement, but Royal Caribbean told me that such a purchase might not be available on the ship, so I should buy it in advance, which I could not do! I had to find, for myself, on the Internet, a shuttle service from Galveston to Houston. Were my not having purchased air tickets and the fact that the cost of the shuttle was lower than that of Royal Caribbean's transfer the reason why neither the travel agent or Royal Caribbean told me about it? (I discovered on the shuttle bus that I was not the only passenger who had experienced this conundrum.)
Additionally, Royal Caribbean does "nickle and dime" passengers: so-called soft-serve ice cream was free, but regular ice cream had to be purchased at premium prices; regular hamburgers were free in the cafeteria, but supposedly deluxe ones had to be purchased in the ship's extra-cost "diner." Wine that costs $6.00 per bottle cost $8.00 per glass in the dining room. A 15% "gratuity" was added automatically to the purchase of soft or alcoholic beverages, and passengers were encouraged to add an "additional gratuity for excellent service." As on Norwegian (less so on Holland America), the constant exhortations to buy and spend were very annoying. (A recent program on The Travel Channel revealed that cruise ships rely on on-board sales and charges to make their profit.)