RCL Voyager of the Seas - 7-Day Caribbean Cruise -- 24 to 31 December 2011
On a scale of 1 to 10 with 1 being the worst and 10 being the best, I would rate this cruise a 15!! I am a 55 year old male and did this cruise solo. I did three cruises last year -- Carnival Conquest out of Galveston for a 7-night Caribbean cruise in May, a 10-day eastern and southern Caribbean cruise on the Emerald Princess out of Ft. Lauderdale in October and the Voyager of the Seas 7 --day Caribbean cruise on 24 December out of New Orleans. Of the three, this last cruise was about as perfect a cruise experience as one could hope to have and I would highly recommend Royal Caribbean's Voyager of the Seas to everyone.
I arrived in New Orleans via an American Airlines, independently-booked flight from Dallas about 1:30 p.m. on the day before the cruise, 23 December, and stayed the night at the Hampton Inn Convention Center, 1201 Convention Center Bld., 504.566.9990. This hotel is only three blocks from the Julia Street Cruise Ship Terminal and was filled to capacity. Two other cruises were departing New Orleans on 24 December -- the Carnival Conquest and a Norwegian Cruise Line ship. The hotel was outstanding for the price. I paid $99 plus tax for my room -- very clean and comfortable. The Hampton Inn always had fresh coffee and tea, and an outstanding hot breakfast. For dinner I went to Rio Mar Seafood, 800 South Peters Street New Orleans, 504.525.3474, just a five minute walk from the hotel and it was good but expensive -- about $40 just for me alone without drinks or wine. This restaurant offer Brazilian fusion seafood. The owner was very nice and helpful.
The next morning early I walked up to Cafe du Monde, 800 Decatur St., (504) 525-4544, for some of those fabulous beignets and a cup of their exceptional coffee. If you have not been to New Orleans or are not familiar with Cafe du Monde, it is a must do in New Orleans.
New Orleans is one of my least favorite cities in the US, but they do have some neat attractions. The National World War II Museum is located about five blocks north of the Hampton Inn, 945 Magazine Street, , (504) 528-1944; EMAIL: email@example.com, and has a very impressive collection of WWII displays. The opening film you see on the tour done by Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg is really incredible -- a great place to take your kids if you are ever there. The French Quarter holds no appeal for me. It always smells extremely bad (yeah, you know why) and the people there are most unfriendly. Plus, the merchants do their best to pick your pockets with high priced food and drink.
Another option for a restaurant close to the Hampton Inn is Harrah's Casino. They have an incredible buffet that is not too expensive. Last time I was there in May, I think it was about $18 per person, and it is only a short cab ride or a good stretch of the legs from the hotel.
Two other restaurants I like in New Orleans are The Court of the Twin Sisters and Commander's Palace. Both are expensive, but I really enjoy the food and ambiance.
Even though the cruise terminal was only a few blocks from the hotel, I did hire a cab to take me and my three bags to the cruise terminal. Pay the ten bucks for a cab as you have to weave around to get to the bag drop and if you are toting bags and get lost, it will be a real pain. I arrived at the terminal at 10:42 a.m., waited until 11:00 am for the counters to open, and was on the ship at 11:16 a.m. Best and fastest embarkation process of the three cruises I have done, but I did have all of my SeaPass papers completed beforehand and had all of my travel documents in order.
Voyager of the Seas was built in 1999, can carry over 3,000 passengers and has a crew of about 1,100. It has an ice skating rink, a rock climbing wall, three pools, six hot tubs, and a unique promenade in the center of the ship that is six or seven stories tall. There are a number of bars -- smoking and non smoking, a mini golf course, a roller blading area, Johnny Rockets -- a 50s style hamburger joint, a two story library (that didn't have many books), an internet lounge and many Wi-Fi hotspots, and a huge auditorium called La Scala. Although the ship is older, it has been well-maintained and everything was clean and new looking. It is your typical mega-ship.
One of the really neat things to do was you could walk out on the Lido Deck and look into the bridge of the ship. They has a display that showed what each piece of equipment was inside of the bridge and it is the first time I have ever seen the bridge of a cruise ship. It looked more like a sophisticated game machine or an airline cockpit simulator. I found it very interesting.
I was in 9372, a standard balcony stateroom on Deck 9, the third from the last stateroom on the starboard side of the vessel. Since I was alone, there was more than enough room for all my stuff. The interior did look a bit dated and some of the glass in pictures, doors and the Plexiglas on my balcony was dirty. Most people probably wouldn't have noticed, but being a neat nik, I spent about an hour thoroughly cleaning the room to my specifications. There was more than ample storage for two people and the bed was OK, but not as plush as I had anticipated. The mattress was a bit too hard for my liking, but I did not lose any sleep over it. Although I make the stateroom out to be average, it really was above average. The bathroom had great storage, but only had a shower, no tub, and the shower had a hard-surfaced surround instead of a flimsy shower curtain. Water pressure was excellent and the water was always hot.
My stateroom steward, Darwin, was from India and was just the absolute best! He kept my room nice and tidy, always had new towels and sheets, and he left me alone when I had my Do Not Disturb sign out. The first night of the cruise I had requested a lot of ice, and from that point forward, there was always several containers of ice in my room day or night. His towel animal creations were unexpected and very much appreciated. I gave him a handsome tip for all his hard work.
The television was interactive and it was very easy to access my on-line account information, order movies, change languages, had parental control, and other neat options. Most of the television stations were promotional channels for Royal Caribbean, but they did have CNN and Fox News. They did not have the Weather Channel and that would have been a nice additional. They did have two channels in Spanish, one in German, and one in Japanese. There weren't any good movies on the entire week, but the point of a cruise is not to sit in your room and watch TV so that didn't bother me.
When I made my reservation, I was assigned to an 8:15 p.m. seating, and since I was alone and did not want to dine alone, I took all of my meals in the Windjammer Cafe on the Lido Deck. The food was excellent, but lacked variety at breakfasts. They had the same thing each morning. But that wasn't all bad as I am watching my weight. The menu varied for lunch and dinner and everything was delicious. What I liked most about the lunches and dinners is they had drink stations with an attendant who filled glasses with lemonade, ice tea and water, and orange juice, apple juice and water for breakfasts. If you needed more to drink, all you had to do was get up and get it yourself or ask a waiter/waitress to bring you more. On Princess, it was almost impossible to get a second glass of anything at any meal.
The waiters and waitresses were very attentive and always offered to get whatever you needed. Everyone, and I do mean everyone, from the wait staff to the people manning the buffets were beyond friendly and helpful. Not once did I encounter a crew member that was in a bad mood or offered poor service. On Princess, everyone on the dining room staff acted as if the passengers were annoying them if they asked for something or just said a cheerful good morning.
And I must comment on the ice sculptures and food carvings. On Christmas Eve, one of the chefs had created one of the most awesome ice sculptures I have ever seen. On an eight foot table at the entrance to the Windjammer, there was this huge ice carving of Santa Klaus in a sleigh with his eight reindeer in front. It was an incredible sculpture I will never forget. Absolutely fabulous!!! On Christmas Day, there was a sculpture of the face of Santa Klaus in a watermelon that looked as if it had been carved my Michelangelo. It was one of the most detailed and ornate food carvings I have ever witnessed. On another day, a child's face had been carved in a watermelon and it was so real and lifelike, it was spooky. Definitely reminded me of something out of a Steven King novel, but it was incredible. The last night I spoke with the officer in charge of the food service and he introduced me to the sculptor and I had my opportunity to express my gratitude for these awesome works of art.
The coffee on the ship was Seattle's Best -- excellent coffee! They had coffee stations throughout the ship and it was always very easy to get a cup of Joe. And it was great coffee. On the Princess Cruise I took, I don't know what they used for coffee, but it was awful -- almost undrinkable -- and tasted to me like instant. It was a real let down and I know Princess did this so you would buy the $5 a cup coffee at the specialty coffee bar. Again, Royal Caribbean did it right and didn't skimp.
Whether it was the television, the daily newspaper -- Cruise Compass, or menus in the restaurants, everything was multi lingual. The first two cruises I took last year I was with a friend from Mexico who spoke very little English. Carnival had nothing written in another language and Princess only had menus in the dining halls in other languages. This was an incredibly nice touch for foreign guests on RCCL.
They had six ice cream machines, two in three stations. One station was near the pools on the Lido Deck and two stations were in the Windjammer Cafe. My only complaint, and it really isn't a complaint, is that only one of the ice cream machines in each station was ever operational. Lines became very long in the Windjammer Cafe and by the pools at times. All of the machines should have been up and running. And the machines were always shut down by 9:30 p.m. at night. I wish they had left the one station by the pools open until midnight each night -- it would have been the perfect touch to an almost perfect cruise experience.
All, and I do mean all, of the ship's crew and personnel were over the top on customer service and a friendly, positive attitude, whether it was other stateroom attendants encountered in the halls, maintenance personnel or the security personnel I encountered at 3 am one morning when I was entering one of the hot tubs. This security guard even opened up the towel locker and offered me a new towel -- at 3 am in the morning!!! I did hear Royal Caribbean had launched a new customer relations/service program, and whatever they did, it is working beyond expectations! The crew just seemed happy and went out of their way to help. If they couldn't help for one reason or another, they always offered an alternative suggestion. This is the way cruising was meant to be and I was thoroughly impressed. This is so unlike the Princess cruise I took where the staff would avoid passengers and were not helpful in the least. Royal Caribbean has remembered the cardinal rule of customer service -- passengers are the profit and the crew are the overhead. Royal Caribbean is doing it right!
As soon as I boarded the ship, I went immediately to the customer service desk to ask about the smoking areas on the ship. I was handed this very helpful, pocket guide showing day by day all of the venues where smoking was allowed. The venues changed daily and gave the smoking passengers the opportunity to visit each of the bars and lounges with the ability to have a smoke. Not once was I chastised by a crew member or passenger for smoking in a non designated area. On the Princess cruise, no one, and I mean no one, could tell me where the designated smoking areas were located on the ship. There were only 74 seats on the entire Emerald Princess that were designated as smoking. If you smoked on chair one foot outside of the designated smoking area, the crew or passengers would let you know in uncertain terms you were violating the rules, which were totally unclear and nebulous.
There was a dedicated smoking lounge next to Cleopatra's Needle on Deck 5, called the Connoisseur's Club, where cigar, pipe and cigarette smoking was always allowed, and the Club offered a fine selection of cigars and specialty liquors. Smoking was allowed along the port side of Deck 11 with more than ample chairs. I was always able to find a seat at a smoking table day or night there. The only coffee available early in the morning was at the Cafe Promenade on Deck 5. You could get a cup of coffee and have a smoke in either the Connoisseur's Club or the Scoreboard Sports Bar on Deck 5 -- nice touch. One could smoke in High Notes, the jazz club on Deck 14, and the 19th Hole, both on Deck 14 after 5 p.m. Smoking was also allowed in The Vault, a kid's night club, on Deck 4 and the Casino on Deck 6, but only during certain hour. The printed card I mentioned earlier listed where you could smoke each day and at what times -- a very nice touch for smokers.
Yaakov Smirnov had two shows one evening and he was very good. I had never seen him live before and he was pretty funny even though some of his jokes were dated. There was also a show put on by the crew that was incredibly good. High energy, great music. And there were two shows for each of these performances -- one for early dinner seating and one for late dinner seating.
I'm not a gambler, but the casino was larger than the other two cruises I took last year and there always seemed to be many people there.
One night they had a BBQ on the Lido Deck near the pools that was really cool. They had ribs from the grills and an assortment of picnic food at 11 p.m., and it was very well-attended and yet they did not run out of food. The food was dynamite, too!
The last night of the cruise they had a parade on the Promenade at 11 p.m. that was a lot of fun.
Since I am a Certified Scuba Diver, I did the two tank dives in Cozumel and Grand Cayman. Both were awesome! Water temp was perfect and visibility was incredible. Both dive boats were very well organized, the equipment appeared to be well-maintained, and the staff very friendly and helpful. This is the first cruise dive experience where the boat crew prepared all equipment for the divers and dismantled it all after the dives. Another very nice touch. I've never liked Jamaica and hadn't planned to get off the ship in Falmouth, but there was a relatively new shopping area that was just off of the quay, so I went down and explored all of the shops, but I did not see any good prices on anything. I then decided to go out of the secured shopping area to a super market to buy a couple of twelve packs of soda. As soon as I got outside of the shopping area gate, I was approached by no less than 25 people, all wanted to sell me pot or cocaine. There were so many people in the streets, and they all looked so poor and many of them looked like they'd slit your throat for a dollar, I honestly thought I might get mugged. I was wearing a $9,000 Rolex that was very visible because I had on a short-sleeved shirt. I normally am not too concerned about getting robbed, but I know if I had stayed in that area for more than 15 minutes I would have gotten robbed. As I was walking back into the main gate at the secured shopping area, I saw a few women getting ready to leave the secured area and advised them against it and they did not go out of the secured area. Jamaica really needs to clean up its act. I hope to never return to that dirty and destitute island. Why cruise ships go there is beyond me.
Overall, it was an exceptional cruise experience. The ship was outstanding, and the crew couldn't have been any better. It reminded more of the golden age of cruise lines. Royal Caribbean is doing it right and I would highly recommend Voyager of the Seas and Royal Caribbean to anyone seeking a fantastic experience on a main stream, mega liner.
Kevin M. Pearson
Wichita Falls, Texas