We live in the "burbs" outside of NOLA and were so excited to hear that RCL was coming to town! We booked this cruise early (about a year in advance) and ended up securing a great rate and also put together a group cruise package with 33 family and friends in 11 different cabins. Of our group, 10 were veteran cruisers and the other 23 were first timers. There are incentives to book a group of 7 cabins or more, but you have to ask. We ended up getting a nice lump sum onboard credit that we split among all of the cabins.
This was our second time on the Voyager. Our first trip was literally within weeks of it's inaugural cruise over 10 years ago! The ship is still in pretty good shape, but could use some exterior TLC (mainly paint and wood finish issues...but that's being picky). The interior still looks great and the passenger areas and cabins definitely didn't look as though they'd been through 10+ years of tourists! We've also sailed the Adventure, Navigator, and Freedom. What all of the group liked about the Voyager (and this applies to the other Eagle class as well as Freedom and Liberty) is the ease of getting around. RCL's Royal Promenade is one of the best ship features of any ship on any line.
We are Platinum members with RCL's Crown and Anchor and that definitely knocked at least an hour (maybe more) off of our boarding time. The only negative about living in and departing from New Orleans is that the parking lot RCL uses is not sufficient for the number of local cruisers on holiday weeks. Once we parked and dropped our luggage, getting through security and check-in was a breeze thanks to the Crown and Anchor "express lanes". The other members of our cruise still had no problems going through the main line and their check in experience was pretty simple.
Once on board at about 1:30PM, our staterooms were ready and the ship was "open for business". It was an especially rainy departure day so most of the passengers were in the restaurants and Royal Promenade the first afternoon.
Our luggage began arriving to our stateroom by about 4PM with the last bag arriving just before our 5:30 dinner time. My wife and kids seem to have packed 19 days worth of clothes for a 7 day cruise, but there was adequate room and hangers to handle it all. The unpacked suitcases fit nicely under the bed. The Oceanview balcony rooms have several "covert" storage cabinets tucked behind mirrors that help with the toiletries and knick knacks. One very important tip: invest in a basic travel steamer. You CAN NOT have irons on board (hair curling and flat irons are ok, but no clothes irons). The $15-20 spent on a travel steamer really helped freshen up the formal attire. Regarding the staterooms, two people are fine in any room, however, if you have 3 or 4 passengers, consider the Superior Ocean View or even the junior suite. The extra space is worth the extra money and the Jr.Suite gives you a bathtub instead of just a shower. If you have a family of 5 or more, adjoining rooms are available and that gives you a ton of space without having to worry about being disconnected from the other half of your family.
We headed to dinner on the first evening and had only one minor issue that got resolved quickly. Our group of 33 had four tables assigned for dinner with 33 seats. Somehow a group of 3 was also assigned to one of our tables by mistake and they had to be reassigned. The head waiter had the issue remedied in no time, but I had to show him my group table assignments email to help him understand the issue.
Our waiter, Ali, was wonderful and the food throughout the week was very good. We tried nearly everything on the menu. I've seen some pretty harsh reviews regarding cruise food. While it isn't 5 star cuisine, the food was hot, had good flavor, and was prepared to our request. If there was anything we weren't fond of or wanted more of, Ali went out of his way to take care of it. The quality of service was excellent. Bottom line, if there is something you don't like, speak up. Don't wait to complain in a review. The staff did everything to make sure we enjoyed our food selections.
We didn't do the specialty dining, but ate at the dining room for Breakfast and Dinner, Windjammer buffet, Cafe Promenade, and Johnny Rockets. All of the food was good, but Johnny Rockets is evil and will be the reason for needing to hit the gym after your trip!
There were 3 sea days on this voyage. One after the departure day and two after the ports prior to the end of the cruise. The only rough seas we encountered were just beyond the mouth of the Mississippi river entering the Gulf of Mexico and again heading back into the river at the end of the trip. This motion was very minimal and lasted maybe 2 hours. This is a very large ship so the waves had very little effect. in fact, once in the Royal Promenade, you really forgot that you were moving along at 20+ knots.
Our days at sea were filled with various activities. We hit the pool, participated in the pool games, played Bingo, shopped, ate, and even entered a team in (and lost) the dodgeball tournament. Over the course of our trip, members of our grouped earned "fabulous" prizes for participating in the activitied (keychains, pens, highlighters, and even a silver medal in the kids hula hoop competition)
On our evenings at sea, we participated in many of the trivia events, game shows, parades, etc. There was no shortage of activities and entertainment for all ages. There were events that were family oriented and there were some noted as "adult themed" (I'd call it PG-13). The "game shows" are pretty informal yet very funny to watch. The event to not miss is the QUEST adult scavenger hunt in Studio B (it's more like PG-15....if there was such a thing). It is an absolute riot to see and even more fun to participate in.
For entertainment, my only complaint is in the performance quality of the major production shows. The music and singers were professional, but the dancers were sub-par and they had some legitimate prop issues throughout. I didn't see the singing, dancing, impressionist, comedy "headliner", but the reviews were mixed and that part of the entertainment varies week to week.
Later in the trip we saw the Ice Show and it was SPECTACULAR. There was one minor problem in that the first day of ice shows had to be delayed to the last sea day due to a technical issue.
Our "tween" members of the group really liked the Optix lounge for their age cruisers and we felt perfectly safe with them being able to roam the ship on their own (ages 12-15). In fact, security was very visible and enforced a curfew that would not allow unattended youngsters out in the public areas after 1AM. Our younger aged kids (9-11) only did the program in the evening while the parents went to the shows since they said that "broadway shows are boring". The optional $6 per hour late night kid (10P-2A)sessions are a blessing if mom and dad want to relax, do some dancing, cut up and party, etc, etc.
Regarding the ports, I'm not a big fan of excursions on the smaller islands so we went out on our own in Cozumel and Grand Cayman, however, DO NOT VENTURE OUT INTO FALMOUTH beyond the cruise pier gated market without being on an excursion! I'll have more on that later.
Our first port was Cozumel. I've been there several times so we called in advance and reserved two vehicles from a local rental facility that I am familiar with. We got a 9 passenger Suburban for $75 and a VW Golf for $18 at a rental facility located next to the Hotel Barracuda. Our group of 33 went various ways, but 11 of us went off in the two rental cars. I lead the way around the island. We first stopped at the Corona Beach Club bar/restaurant which has great snorkeling right on the beach behind their open air restaurant. Some of us relaxed in the hammocks and had a few sodas while others snorkeled. There is no charge to snorkel at Playa Corona and the reef is really not much different than the snorkeling you'll do at Chunkanaab that costs $25 a person! In fact it's less than 1/4 mile from there. If you need snorkel gear you'll have to rent it. We left after about an hour and drove to the other side of the island. (There's only one main highway so it's near impossible to get lost and there is minimal traffic on that loop plus the whole lap only takes about 40 min without stops). Our next stop was lunch at Playa Bonita. We had a superb meal (fajitas, quesadillas, chips and pico, etc). Some of the crew did the complimentary tequila tasting. After lunch we continued our route and stopped for about 30 minutes on the windward side of the island for some beach/surf time at a somewhat secluded beach. The benefit of the less populated beach is that there are virtually no peddlers bothering you to buy their trinkets but the surf can get rough and lifeguards are scarce. I don't recommend going beyond waist deep for that reason. Upon leaving the beach we drove through town, but it was a local holiday so the markets were very busy. We opted to simply shop at the cruise pier market instead and headed that way after dropping off the rental cars.
Our second port was Georgetown, Grand Cayman. Again, we did not book an excursion so I lead 21 people in our group on an impromptu adventure. At the cruise pier, I negotiated a private glass bottom boat tour and reef snorkel for all 21 of us for only $200! The reviews for Cayman Glass Bottom Boat on trip advisor are all excellent. The only other cost was for those that needed to rent their snorkel gear or fins ($5-$10). After a 50yd walk out of the cruise pier, we were at the dock, loaded into the boat and were on our way. We viewed a shipwreck though the glass bottom boat and then spent 30-40 minutes snorkeling at Cheeseburger reef. The boat ride and snorkel took about an hour and a half. After the snorkel, the boat beached about two miles from the pier at the Royal Palm resort on 7 mile beach. We swam and snorkeled more after being dropped off. once finished, we walked through the resort and hopped in taxi buses for the $4 ride back to the cruise pier. Since we still had 2 hours, we opted to have a snack and some drinks at a waterfront bar that was adjacent to the Seven Fathoms rum distillery (it's a tiny local distillery...and I mean tiny as in one 300sq ft room). After a few drinks and some appetizers, we walked 100 yds back to the ship pier.
Our last port was Falmouth. Falmouth is an RCL terminal with a nice shopping complex. It is halfway between Montego Bay and Ocho Rios. To be blunt: the people outside of the gates of the pier are very sketchy and are not to be trusted. Do not go beyond the market unless you are in a cruiseline booked excursion PERIOD. We booked the combo Green Grotto Caves and Dunns River Falls excursion with 11 members of our group. This excursion is only $2 more than the Dunns River only tour and lasts about an hour and a half longer! Note: This excursion requires a bit of athleticism to navigate the caves and the falls. The caves are great and Dunns River is a "must do". The tourbus ride is an great adventure to itself thanks to the video game like driving skills of our driver. Our group had kids 9,12,14,and 15 who loved it! The caves are exciting and educational at the same time and there are literally hundreds of small (harmless) bats flying around. There were three grandparents in our group who did the caves and enjoyed it, but opted out of climbing the falls, however, the did love the observation areas of the falls. At the falls, I recommend NOT using a guide to climb. The guides enforce a hand-holding chain of the entire group which I find makes it much harder to climb since you can't use your hands for grip and balance, plus if one person falls down, it's human dominoes for the group! Head to the bottom with the group and then simply begin your own journey to the top with your friends and family. The only negative is the pushy nature of the locals selling their crafts as you walk through the local market on the way back to the tour buses.
Disembarking was almost too easy! We got off the ship, grabbed our bags, hopped in the SUV and drove 30 min home...only to get on the website to begin planning the next cruise.
Overall, this was a great cruise and most of our group is already discussing a repeat on the Navigator next Mardi Gras. The ship is great, the staff excellent, the ports have something for everyone, and both veteran as well as first time cruisers had a blast! I've sailed on 10 cruises on 5 cruise lines with and without children. Overall, this ship/port combo is a great value and I plan on doing it again!