My travel party
This trip was booked at the end of August with my parents. We tend to like cruises over Christmas, but pricing just didn't work out for us this year. We caught this voyage at a decent price (later found a military rate right before final payment which made it even better) and I found a great cabin. I am D+ and this was my parents' last cruise before becoming D+. We have left from New Orleans once before (and stopped there a couple of times on Carnival cruises) and I was fairly familiar with the downtown area after spending 4 nights there last April for a conference.
I can understand why the Port of New Orleans would seem attractive to cruise lines. New Orleans is obviously a tourist draw in itself and there are also plenty of locals who love having a nice, big ship like the Voyager within easy driving distance. With that being said, though, I'm not a huge fan of NOLA as a cruise port. There seem to be relatively few flights into NOLA, meaning they tend towards the pricey side. The port itself is not that well designed, causing other issues. I guess some may be enamored by Bourbon Street, but I am not ... I live in a college town, so I don't need to travel far to see vomit in the streets on a Friday night. Don't get me wrong ... there are many, many great things in NOLA, but in terms of cruising, I'd take Fort Lauderdale any day of the week.
Our trip started with a Continental flight that kept getting earlier and earlier the closer trip came. It actually wasn't that bad, but I was not thrilled that we ended up with a 5:30 AM flight out of Indianapolis with a 4+ hour layover in Houston on Friday 12/30. Thankfully we got free bags checked because of using the Continental credit card. We were also given "Priority" tags on our luggage and boarding passes which made absolutely no difference whatsoever. The flight to NOLA was on a turboprop ... my first flight in about 15 years that had propellers. We landed in NOLA on time, had the usual longish NOLA wait for our bags, and grabbed a cab to our hotel.
Cab rates are fixed between the airport and downtown/cruise port. 1-2 people will be $33. 3+ people (many larger taxis that were vans or SUV's ... but 5 seemed to be about the limit) run $14/pp. If you are traveling solo, there is a shared-ride shuttle that runs for $20/pp but you might have a bit of a wait. Time to downtown depends on traffic. I've had it take up to an hour during rush hour (when you are thankful for the set price), but with normal traffic, it may take 20-30 minutes.
When I was first making reservations, things were very booked up for 12/30 (Friday night before NYE) and I ended up reserving the Embassy Suites Convention Center for $159/night thinking it would be a quick trip to the port (across the street) and that we would at least get a free breakfast. Closer to sail, however, I ended up scoring the JW Marriott on Priceline for a $70 bid. This moved us further from the port, but also closer to most of the French Quarter attractions. I was very happy with this hotel as all of the service we received was very friendly and the location was hard to beat (right on Canal Street). I was able to request a roll-away for no charge which is always nice.
It was a very long arrival day, but we made the requisite tour of the French Quarter and Bourbon Street. I had made a reservation for Emeril's using Open Table months earlier, so we headed there and had a wonderful meal on Friday night. The pricing wasn't too bad considering how easy it is to drop about $50/pp on a meal anywhere in the city. I'd definitely recommend the escargot, pork chop, and banana cream pie. They were all great.
Listening to the local weather on the previous night, they warned of fog. Waking up on NYE morning, we were greeted with and dense, gray curtain covering the city. We headed to The Ruby Slipper on Magazine Street for breakfast as I had visited it previously and enjoyed it. Once again it did not disappoint and offered some great specials like Eggs Cochon (think eggs benedict but instead of ham on an english muffin, there was pulled pork on a biscuit), lemon cream stuffed pain perdue (stuffed into real French bread), and bananas foster pain perdue ... all enormous and wonderful.
After a huge breakfast (which ended up being a good idea), we headed down to explore more of the fog-covered city. My dad and I took off down Riverwalk to see if the ship made it in and then met the rest of our party at Jackson Square. No issues with the Voyager making it to port, though I did talk to several people who missed the ship in NOLA because fog closed down the airport for the entire morning ... one more reason I guess to try to fly in early.
At around 11 AM, we checked out of the hotel and grabbed a cab to the ship. It was probably walkable if we were all a bit more athletic, but with large bags and a few people with mobiilty issues, that just wasn't feasible. Taxis to the ship were a set rate of $10 for 1 person, $7/pp for 2 or more, or the metered rate IF it is higher than the per person rate.
After arriving at the port, I can see why there have been issues with backups at embarkation. Our taxi drove us down a few narrow alleys to reach where the porters were located. It seemed about 6 vans at a time could unload passengers in this area right outside the terminal. It was fairly painless at 11:15 or so.
After dropping bags with the porter, we went into the terminal and stood in the first line to have our passports/SetSail Pass checked by security (which means they have to be out upon entering the building). After that, we headed through the metal detectors (and they were requiring laptops out of bags unlike other ports). Once past that checkpoint, we were allowed to check-in. At this point, we were told that boarding was delayed until 2:30 or so and were given a general boarding sticker. We went up to the counter, checked in, and then were told that we had the option of sitting in the already crowded terminal or exiting and being able to return through "express" lines when we came back.
Let me just say that even though I know that this delay was unexpected, it was not handled well by the terminal staff. The waiting area is tiny and was already close to full by 11:30. We were told to sit or leave and, when we moved off to the side to discuss it, were yelled at by the staff for being "in the way" ... which we weren't ... and forced into "the way" where we were still trying to decide what we wanted to do (mobility issues, etc). I specifically asked if 2:30 was a "hard" boarding time (not a general guess) and was emphatically told YES (ha ha), so in the end we decided to leave instead of sitting in the crowd for 3 hours. We ended up going over to Riverwalk for a while and, while over there and outside, heard on the Voyager's PA the captain telling the crew that extra cleaning had finished and the Voyager would be boarding (about 12:30ish). It turns out that there had been enough Noro on the previous cruise to require extra cleaning, CDC handouts, etc.
We headed back to terminal and found huge lines for security. We inquired about the "express" line as we already had our SeaPass cards and were essentially told to wait with everyone else. Once we cleared the first checkpoint, we actually were allowed into the handicap line to go through the metal detectors again. Once back in the waiting area, we finally worked our way through the huge mass of disorganized people to where people where boarding. We were placed in the handicap line to have our security pictures taken which ended up being 3 times as long as any other line as the ground staff said nothing while people cut under the ropes and into the wheelchair "chute" in front of us directly at the security podium. It was a mess where we were not allowed to switch lines but nothing was said to those cutting in front ... not the end of the world, I know, but still quite frustrating when you just want to get onto the ship. We were finally onboard a little after 1 (cabins did not open until 2).
I've never board on New Year's Eve before and to be honest, I'm not sure I'd want to again ... flights are expensive for destination cities, hotels can be more expensive, and the first day is hectic. One major change for this cruise ... the first formal night was changed to the first night as opposed to the second. I can understand the WHY, but just barely. I typically have my tux pressed or dry-cleaned the first day so that it is ready for the second night (typical formal night). Obviously, I could not do it for this cruise, so I went formal-wrinkled and did not bother with the pressing as things would normally be a little wrinkled by the second formal night anyway. Many people did not have their bags by first seating anyway, so it was, in reality, shorts to formal night ... and this did upset some people who had purchased formal clothes that they were not able to wear.
As for the NYE celebrations themselves, they started with hats and party favors being laid out on the tables in the dining room. Personally, I could go without the noisemakers at dinner because once they start, they take a while to stop. I guess I'm a fuddy-duddy, but I enjoy meals in relative peace where you can talk to people at your table without having being surrounded by kids loudly honking on their party favors.
There was a special dinner with a special menu ... it was all actually quite good, including a nice, tender cut of beef.
Beyond that, there were balloons ready to go in the Royal Promenade as well as many carts selling champagne. There were screens with a count-down. The Royal Promenade was completely packed ... body to body the whole way.
It's been a few years since I've been on Voyager. Though she was not "new" when I went on her before, she was the first Voyager-class ship I sailed on. Obviously, after being on most of the other Voyager-class ships as well as two Freedom-class and the Oasis, she doesn't quite deliver the same WOW, though the Royal Promenade is still nice. What I found most interesting were the differences between the first ship of the class and the "changes" made afterward ... the fixed Cafe Promande bar out in the Promenade, the bar in the Back of the WindJammer instead of the front (Plaza bar), only a Portofino with a Florist instead of Chops, etc.
There are definitely some spots where Voyager is showing her age. Some areas have a little bit of a "worn" feel, and she could definitely use a bit of an outside paint job. For the most part she is kept up incredibly well, but as with any ship, if you want to find a little fraying at the edge, you can find it. Quite a bit of work was going on in terms of repair, and on one port day, they even drained of the main pools for painting.
There were two design issues that I did not like. One ... there always seemed to be an overwhelming line/wait for the elevators on the aft end (to the WJ). The elevators seemed slow and on several occasions, one or more would be out of service to be worked on. Most rides had everyone packed in, waving off people on other floors.
Two ... the WJ has the old buffet style lines instead of food stations. When first introduced to food stations, I did not like them as people seemed to go at the food from every which way. Now, I can see their benefit. There were cafeteria-style lines with some people waiting to get to the dish they wanted while others just cut in.
Extra note: I do have an extra story to share about an experience you never ever want. On day 6 (Cozumel) which was the second formal night, my dad and I were heading up to the Viking Crown in the elevator. Suddenly the elevator began to violently shake both horizontally and vertically to the point where we grabbed the sides to hold on. The door opened early on deck 12 and we ran out. It was utterly frightening. In the end, it was the whole ship shaking (which we didn't know since it was timed perfectly to coincide with our elevator trip) as the captain tried to get us away from the pier before the Liberty in Cozumel. However, there was a good three seconds or so when I thought that elevator was going to drop. Yikes.
I know that food quality is subjective, but in my opinion, I found food options a little lacking. There seemed to be fewer offerings in the WJ without stations (and special areas such as Jade). The dining room menus were standard except for NYE and the lobster and shrimp keep getting smaller and smaller. I avoided most of the cuts of beef in the MDR just because I knew they would be disappointing (though the one on NYE was good as mentioned earlier). Cafe Promenade had the standard selections of desserts, sandwiches, and pizza. There was also a featured panini each day, and I saw a press on the back counter, but I was never offered the option of a hot panini ... perhaps you had to request it? I wasn't sure.
Since NYE was the first night, I inquired at Portofino's about using my B1G1 D+ coupon on another night and was told I could only use it on the second night. We had also gotten a coupon from our TA for dinner for 2 that was only supposed to be available on port days. However, they accepted both coupons for our party of 5 on the second night without issue (which was appreciated). The food in Portofino was definitely a cut above anything in the MDR, but it did not seem as "spectacular" as usual ... could just be that I'm getting jaded and it is no longer "new". I ordered my usual seafood skewer and it just seemed very small with hardly two or three bites of scallop and lobster.
Much to my surprise, dress codes were actually enforced on the Voyager beyond the first night. I actually overheard waiters in the MDR telling those in shorts on the first night that they would not be allowed to enter on future nights if wearing shorts because "diners don't want to see hairy legs". Over the week, I definitely saw a few people turned away in shorts. The exception to this rule, evidently, were children under the age of 13. I also saw strict enforcement of the footwear policy in the WJ, even for women carrying very small babies (there seemed to be a lot of much younger children on this cruise than I've ever seen before).
It was pretty rocky on the night before, and my dad and I have brief discussion of whether or not we'd actually be able to dock in Grand Cayman the next morning. It turned out we could ... kind of. In the end, the Georgetown docks were closed, but the Voyager was allowed to tender on the other side of the island.
For the tendering process, I never saw anything about tender tickets or heard announcements, however the concierge had included two Tender 1 Priority tickets in the welcome packet in our cabin. In the end, we did not go ashore. However, I did hear some information about the alternative docking site. Evidently there was pretty much nothing where the ship docked. It was a $5/pp taxi ride to the main port area (and $5 back). Others reported walking a bit from the tender drop-off site, renting snorkeling equipment for $5-10, and doing some very nice snorkeling off of a close beach.
This has been my fourth visit to Falmouth and, unsurprisingly, the port has vastly improved each time. On this visit, the large hall facing the ocean was being utilized as the entrance/exit to the port with two large banks of metal detectors (one closed ... obviously in reserve for Oasis/Allure). Some stores were just opening and did not yet have proper signs ... these were the stores furthest from the entrance from the ship and they tended to have better prices on souvenirs over the stores that had already been more established. The craft market was still doing lively business with the occupants still exercising restraint in their salesmanship (ie, you can walk through without being accosted) and the vendors all seemed very pleasant.
Voyager docked at the International Pier next to the Liberty. The pier itself was pretty much the same as it has been (a lot of no-name shops and very crowded) and the mall across the street is not yet done (proudly announcing a December 2011 opening). For the second time (after visiting a few weeks ago on the Liberty), we hung a right outside of the gate, walked about 4 minutes, and visited Carnival's Puerta Maya pier. Again ... this is a much, much nicer shopping area than what is available at the International Pier. My dad bought a few shirts at Ron Jon there, while I bought a shirt at Cariloha (much closer than the downtown version with the same prices). We also had lunch at Pancho's Backyard in Los Cincos Soles. This is our standard stop and as always it was great ... open room with view of the (Carnival) ships, a nice breeze, and live music. I thought the margaritas were plenty strong, but some of our party had fruit ones that they thought were tasty but pretty light. Pancho's Backyard also offers free wifi, so there were several people with their laptops and I admittedly did a bit of work on my iPhone.
In truth, this cruise was probably mostly booked because of the cabin. We did not book until a month or two before final payment, yet when I was searching for cruises over Christmas or NYE, I noticed that I could book cabin 1688. For those unfamiliar with this cabin, it is a corner aft cabin on Deck 10 that is sold as a D1 and not a suite.
The cabin was ... well ... wonderful. Yes, it was on the back of the ship. Yes, it was under the WJ. Yes, it has a pole in it and a beam coming through the balcony. No, there is not a side view. However, I thought this cabin was a great value. It was huge with a full-sized sofa bed and plenty of open area (standard bathroom to differentiate from suites). The balcony was large as well with 2 chairs, 2 loungers, and a table. It was mostly quiet in the aft with a noticeable reduction in "running children" pounding through the hallways. I never noticed noise from the WJ above. There were only a few drawbacks. Yes, there was some extra vibration (ended up sticking a folded piece of paper into the door of the safe to keep it from rattling), especially on the first an last nights while in the Mississippi. The TV was also old, out-dated, and frankly almost impossible to use with the onboard account system. It definitely was a walk from the midship elevators (but not too bad, IMO) which also meant that our "main" elevators were the ones leading up to the WJ which made them also the busiest.
The crew on the Voyager seemed very friendly and helpful. Our stateroom attendent Aldwin was wonderful and was very quick in responding to requests. Many of service people were incredibly quick at learning and remembering names. Servers in the WJ were fairly quick at cleaning tables and offering to get drinks (which was an improvement over my recent Liberty cruise).
There was a little bit of awkwardness ... it came from our waiter at dinner. He was very polite, remembered names, and tried to make sure that everything was exceptional. Great. However, each night, we heard a spiel about letting him know if something made us unhappy, that he was only human, but that he was trying his best. One night he let us know how upset he becomes when someone laughs at his English (which we were not doing). He would tell us why he was doing something (ie, delivering a 2nd appetizer while the 1st was still being eaten) because of the long lines in the kitchen to pick up entrees. I chalked this up to a rough holiday season away from home and/or perhaps bad reviews on the previous cruise, but it seriously got to the point where it was somewhat uncomfortable for everyone at the table. I also felt in a bind ... he was obviously trying to excel and we encouraged him each night (ie, we did not complain, told him he didn't need to worry, etc). It got to the point where I wondered what we could do ... I thought that reporting this to the head waiter would only make the problem worse based on the circumstances.
My last few cruises have been on ships with a Diamond Lounge and, to be honest, it was slightly disappointing to go back to a ship without one. The Diamond Event on Voyager was held each night in the combination of the Cloud 9 and card room. On the positive side, there was plenty of space, the service was very attentive, and they did not care if you took a glass of wine down to dinner. On the negative, drinks still consist of either La Terre(ible) or Coke without a surcharge. One night I made the mistake of having more than one glass of white wine paid dearly for it with a headache the rest of the night. I could have gone down to the CL, but since my parents were not eligible (though they are now ), I did not.
Since there is not a DL, there was a Diamond Breakfast each morning in the small, side-room of the 3rd floor dining room. They actually kept track of who visited each morning (writing down party size and cabin numbers) and they also were pretty thorough in keeping people out who did not belong, though this led to a few raised voices as people tried to bring in ineligible family and friends (BUT WE JUST WANT TO EAT AS A FAMILY .. Yes, sir, and you can do that in the dining room next door). The service was very good each morning with the same waiters getting to know your orders. The only thing I did not like were the parents who brought their younger children in and let them run around. I don't have anything against kids, but I like the Diamond Breakfast for its calm and don't appreciate children running around the table and crawling into the window spaces to play right next to me.
Beyond the standard C&A parties (return guests, top tier), the Voyager also put on a lunch with staff for Diamond and above (and evidently suites). I enjoy these events as you get a chance to have a nice meal and talk with the crew. This meal was slightly awkward as we were placed with the only Pinnacle couple onboard who had specifically asked to sit with a crew member because they knew her mother. I don't think the couple was sending the vibe too strongly, but I felt like we were intruding on the time they wanted to spend with her. That's fine ... it was still enjoyable.
I'm not going to be very helpful here, and for that I apologize. Frankly, I've gotten sick of standard cruise fare, though I do appreciate the trends in shows started by the Oasis/Allure. With that being said, I only saw one show in the theater which was the headliner, Yakov Smirnoff. I thought his show was a little aged and hokey, but was a pretty good time and beats most of the "guest" entertainers I've seen. I heard rave reviews about the Motown group (which I think I've seen).
We had tickets for the last performance of the ice show on Tuesday night at 9 (ice show was the only entertainment for that night). Unfortunately we hit some waves and that show was cancelled and moved the last day. You had to get tickets for the ice show and they were available a couple of different times throughout the first few days. They handed them out in the casino at 3 PM on boarding day (walked right up and got them). They also handed them out in front of Studio B the first sea day and the line was quite long.
I thought that the ice show (Ice Odyssey) was very good, though it was not my favorite compared to some of the others on other ships. I'd definitely recommend it however. One odd thing ... on Voyager, they have both "corner" sections roped off for suites instead of just one ... something I found surprising.
Other Random Things (good and bad)
-I thought that this ship had many more trivias than the other ships I've recently been on. For me ... a big plus. This was also the first week (evidently) they had a progressive trivia. On the second formal night, there was actually a Crown and Anchor trivia about RCI and RCCL in general.
-Lines were generally long at guest services. I had to go down near the end of the cruise because of a mistake on my bill ... this made me mad. I went to the pub on the promenade to use my B1G1 coupon on a larger selection of beers. I asked the bartender what I could get with coupon, he asked to see my card (I'm guessing to verify I was actually D+) and then he said anything on the menu. I ordered two beers and, when he returned with my charge slip, he had charged me for both. I showed him he had made a mistake and he re-rang the beers correctly, but did not give me back my card. I asked for it, he said he gave it back, went over and looked, found it, then handed it back. When I checked my account later, the incorrect charge had been removed, the correct charged added, and then the incorrect charge added again. Guest services corrected this without too much hassle, but it was still irritating.
-While waiting at guest services, two other guests came up and were help. In my evaluation, the guest services rep told both completely wrong information (one was about paying down the onboard account with cash and one was about luggage for a post-cruise tour).
-For the snack time in the WJ, they prepared sour kraut. I'm sure this is a personal opinion, but that stunk up the place so bad it was hard for me to go in.
-The men's restroom outside of the WJ on 11 is pretty amazing with its view and design.
-The captain seemed overzealous when it came to using the PA that went into cabins ... especially on New Year's Eve. I heard a few speculations from passengers that they thought he was drunk ... I don't buy that, but I can't imagine that a captain should act in such a way where passengers would speculate that. I guess he was just excited.
-Can I mention again that being in the elevator during a ship shudder on sail-away scared the heck out of me?
-I really hate it when they set up formal pictures in the entrances to the dining rooms ... especially when they use those drops when people are trying to get in to eat. There were lines at open every night made worse by the crew making sure everyone used the hand sanitizer.
-Early seating was 5:30, late was 8:00. I'm not sure why, but this seemed early.
-Did I mention that they were vigilant, after the noro outbreak, to make sure everyone sanitized upon entrance to every eating establishment? However, napkin twirling in the MDR was still encouraged. I still don't get that one.
We were in no rush to leave the ship with a 12:30 flight, but we didn't really want to linger either.
I believe self-assist was set to leave a little after 7 AM. In actually, they actually called self-assist before 7. The first tags (1-4) were scheduled for 8 AM and that is when they were called.
We headed up to the WJ for breakfast which was, as usual, crowded on debarkation day. We then retrieved our small bags from our cabins (I hate taking them to the WJ which is already crowded enough) and headed to the Magic Flute dining room (deck 5) for the Top Tier lounge (Platinum and above).
Though the debarkation flyer announced that those in the lounge would have priority debarkation with a special call for guests in the lounge, this was of course not the case. We heard our call over the PA like everyone else. The elevators were completely jammed, again as usual, but we were able to manage one floor down to deck 4. The line backed up a little out on the open deck, but then they finally opened up a second check-out stand and we were dinged off.
While the facilities in NOLA are not as bad as some of the old terminals at Port Everglades with a long outside walk, once you collect your bag, you do have to walk it quite a ways. The porters were advertising a "priority" line they could take, but by the time we found bags (lined up on the floor) and got to where the border patrol officers were located, there was virtually nobody in line (4 officers helping people and no one behind them in either line). Then it was quite a wheel around to the outside of the port where we had a taxi called for us (same rate back to the airport as from downtown ... $33 for 2, $14/pp for 3+). We ended up at the airport by a little after 9 AM.