Ports of Call – Singapore (embarkation), Vietnam (Ho Chi Minh City), Hong Kong, Xiamin, Korea (Seoul), and Beijing
Singapore and Embarkations: For those who have not been to Singapore, it is an awesome city, particularly if you like shopping and eating. There are multiple places to do both and you are only limited by your cash supply (or credit). My wife and I stayed at the Marina Bay Sands (you’ve seen the pictures, particularly of the infinity pool). It was a great hotel and the pool is as awesome as it looks. Since we were quite jet lagged after traveling 26 hours from Texas, we did not get out as much as we would have liked, but did get to Orchard street for a bit of shopping as well as to the Marina Bay Sands Mall. For the latter you will find every upscale store you can think of. We held off as we planned to shop in Hong Kong. We did try two great restaurants: Waku Ghin and Cut. Both are very expensive (Waki Ghin being crazy expensive), but both meals were incredibly good. Waku Ghin is more experience dining on a fixed menu and if you are the adventurous type, I recommend it. It is ranked as one of the top 50 restaurants in Asia for good reason. Cut (a Wolfgang Puck restaurant) is a steakhouse. Suffice it to say that I have now eaten the steak by which I will judge all others. I had a true Wagyu ribeye from Japan and while it didn’t look overly impressive on the plate (I like my meat plain without a bunch of sauces as I believe the meat should speak for itself), it was by far the tastiest and most tender piece of beef I’ve ever put in my mouth. Highly recommend going here if you love your meat.
On Sunday we checked out and headed to the pier which fortunately is only about a 10 minute cab ride from the Marina Bay Sands. As we were staying in a Sky Loft, we had the new Star Class Service and a Genie (more on this later). We were whisked to a special room where we met our Genie, Sunil, who was taking care of us and one other couple. He took care of all our paperwork, brought us our cruise cards, and escorted us on the ship past all the lines. Sweet. We also got to go straight to our room even though it was “technically” not time to allow us in (just a touch past noon). We dropped off our stuff and went to Coastal Kitchen (suite guests only) for lunch. As much as the food in the Windjammer is good and plentiful, I’m not a big fan of buffets or crowds, both of which are in abundance at the Windjammer.
Overall the process was very smooth and we had no issues.
The Ship: There is another post from a cruiser doing the Dubai to Singapore leg that is very descriptive, so I invite you to find that thread for the detail and another perspective. I will include more of my own impressions and opinions.
As a preface, my wife and I are Diamond Plus on Royal so have been on most of the ships including the sister ship Quantum of the Seas. We have done Allure and Oasis, and while different class of ships, offer some points of comparison as well. The Quantum class ships are very different than any others in the Royal fleet, and people coming expecting the same Royal layout may be surprised or possibly even disappointed (we heard no end of complaining on the Quantum during its inaugural voyage; I think it was the most common pastime). There is still a central promenade that opens for Decks 4 and 5. There are a few shops, the coffee bar, café, pizzeria, and kiosks in the middle where whatever daily deal on stuff they are hawking can be found. Of note is Michael’s Pub which is a nice dark bar with great beer and pretty good food. If you want to step out of the light of the promenade, slip into one of the back booths here and have a pint and fish and chips or pork sliders. I hit this place quite often.
The Royal Theater is Forward on Decks 4 and 5 and is quite similar to what you will usually see on Royal. There are restaurants toward the aft (more on restaurants later).
Deck 3 is mainly dominated by the Casino and Music Hall (which also extends onto Deck 4). First the Music Hall. Good place to hang and where a lot of events will occur. You can see various music and this is also where the dance lessons take place (line dancing, ballroom, and those brave enough to practice for Michael Jackson’s Thriller rendition). At night it becomes the dance club. This is also where bingo will take place (yes, I won at bingo again, thank you). Upstairs is more bar like with pool tables that apparently self balance.
The Casino is enlarged on the Ovation versus the Quantum, an ode to the ship mainly catering to Asian customers who apparently really love their gambling. Complaints here: no craps table, no cash poker, no Let It Ride, way too many Baccarat tables that only about half a dozen people ever seemed to play, and all the slot are the new electronic 5 reel type with only a few of the old three reels. I am a gambler, as is my wife, so we spent significant time here. As I’m mainly a poker and craps player, I had to have my daily comlaint about no craps or cash game being available. They had two Ultimate Texas Hold-em tables that we about as hard to get on as getting into a Beyonce concert. I literally had three days of our trip I could not get on these tables. People staked out these tables like they were waiting for the last seat on a lifeboat. I did the same until I got bored while I stared at the 7 empty Baccarat tables. I hope this pays off for Royal when they get all the Chinese guests, but I can tell you that the Chinese love poker too. Hello….Royal.
Deck 5 is the new cool and unique deck you will only see on Quantum class ships. This starts with the Esplanade which resides above the Promenade. Here you will find the infamous Bionic Bar and the robot bartenders. Go ahead and try it but don’t look for anything too complicated. You can get drinks off their menu (great if you like the usual overly sweet cruise drinks) or you can make your own, which is way cooler. You just have to work within the limits of the ingredients they have. They have a DJ there in the evenings after 8, and this is a cool place to hang out for a while when waiting to do other stuff in the night. Across from the Bionic Bar is Wonderland and Izumi (see below). You will also find the Photo Center here next to the bar in case you want to peruse the photos they are taking of your cruise. Nice thing for the photos is that they will match them to your room number when taking the picture making it a breeze to review (gone are the days of hunting hundreds of 8x10s trying to figure out “now what time did I get off the ship?”). Thanks Royal for coming into the 21st century on this.
Further down the Esplanade is a nice open area with a cool sculpture hanging from the ceiling. You will find Jamie’s Italian and Vintages. While Vintages can be found on many Royal Ships, Jamie’s is only on Quantim and Oasis class ships (more on Jamie’s below). Following the path you can hang at some cool couches as you make your way to the Next Cruise area, the 270 Café and 270 itself. As many have noted, the 270 area may be the coolest part of the ship and one of the things that sets the Quantum class apart. Get a drink at the bar, hang out and enjoy the view. You can head upstairs for a bit more privacy or visit the library.
The pool decks on 14 and 15 are fairly the norm. My wife and are not sun-worshippers, so we only spent limited time here. Adults have three options: open air under the sun and sky, the enclosed area that is cooler (temperature wise), and the Solarium which is cooler (aesthetic wise). We mainly hung in the Solarium. Lots of whirlpools in each section and a bar in each. You will also find the Solarium Café here. The running track in on Deck 15 (watch out, someone is always running), all the neat adventure stuff (rockwall, iFly, Flowrider) is in the back. You will also get to experience the other unique part of the Quantum Class, the SeaPlex. They do all sorts of things here from dodgeball to trapeze training, but you must do the bumper cars at least once (unless you are very old, very boring, or have a messed up back like me). You can also grab a hotdog or sausage here and a beer and watch people crash into each other.
The Spa and workout facility are Forward on 15 and 16. The spa is pretty normal for cruise standards, and they have a thermal suite. A few words on that: the suite has a seven thermal beds that are nice and warm to lay on, a wet sauna, a dry sauna, and cold/warm shower. I love the thermal spa and bought the cruise package (way to go if you plan to visit at least half the days of your cruise). I miss not having a whirlpool and in all honesty, it is a pale comparison to the thermal spa I experienced on the Norwegian Epic. Still a nice place to spend an hour and unwind. Due to my aforementioned back (herniated a disk, L5-S1, four weeks before the cruise), I did not engage in any workouts, though I usually do. The layout of the workout room is identical on the Ovation to the Quantum and is pretty nice for a ship with some good space to do whatever. If you’re trying to balance out the food, pay a visit. They also have about 20 presentations every day for every malady known to man so they can educate you and sell you products. These all take place there as well.
Our Room: As noted above, we had booked a Sky Loft. This is a rather expensive room that I realize most will not be staying in but as this was our first real trip to Asia and on a new ship, we wanted to do it right. I can say the money was well spent. The room was spectacular and we did spend a fair amount of time in it as this cruise had 6 sea days. As a loft, it is split on two levels with a living area below with couch, table, desk, and minibar (which was always kept stocked on our selected item, mainly water, Red Bull, and beer). The lower floor also has a sink and shower on one side of the entry way and a water closet on the other side. I constantly kept going into one to use the restroom only to have to walk across the entry way for the toilet. A bit inconvenient, but it is nice to split up the bathroom between two people rather that fighting over space. There is a ton of storage with a full closet and a dresser with big drawers. Again, it was nice for me to keep all my stuff down here and let my wife have all upstairs. The room has floor to ceiling windows with automatic curtains controlled from below. The balcony is very nice, though not huge. We spent some time there, but the weather was either very humid or rainy a lot so not as nice as when in the Caribbean. Still, it was cool to hang out there on occasion.
Upstairs had the king size bed, two closets, and vanity and dresser and full bathroom (shower, no tub). The bed was awesome and very comfortable. My wife loved the pillows and wants to buy some for our home. I actually got a different pillow as I found them too soft (you get a pillow menu with the suite). There is another set of curtains on the balcony upstairs so someone can open downstairs without disturbing someone else still sleeping. Again, plenty of storage. The safe is located upstairs and my only complaint is that it’s really too small. I have no idea why they don’t put in a bigger safe given all the room in the closet, but it’s only a minor issue. Overall the room was fantastic, and if you can swing it on this ship or another, I recommend it.
The Restaurants: I think we hit them all, but I’ll give my take on each, starting with the free then the paid:
American Icon – as stated, mainly American food with a few other things thrown in. Ate there for breakfast a couple of times, lunch a couple of times (way too overcooked hamburger), and room service dinner. Nothing special but nothing bad. If you really like your salad, they have the build your own salad bar here with a lot of ingredients. Probably the best thing to do for lunch here.
Chic – the trendy looking restaurant with some more unique dishes. Ate dinner there once. Pretty good, but not the best on the ship. Worth at least one dinner if you are on a 10 day or more. If on a 7 day, you could skip it.
Silk – This is the Asian restaurant. We ate dinner there once and had room service once. Actually pretty good and would put this one on the list to do.
The Grande – This is the traditional restaurant that will have a menu featuring many of the dishes Royal cruisers know and (possibly) love. This is supposed to be the Formal restaurant, though they changed this to Smart Casual. Nevertheless, we went formal as did many others that dined there. We only ate there once, but it was one of the best meals we had. Still remember the braised pork loin which fell off the bone. Definitely do this one.
Coastal Kitchen – Not necessary “free” as its limited for suite guests only. We ate breakfast there once together (not good) and once by myself (better though service was slow), lunch a couple of time (pretty good), and dinner there once (also pretty good). Mixed reviews here but if you are in a suite, I would try it. It’s right next to the Windjammer so peel off to the left to avoid the crowds.
Solarium Bistro – Ate breakfast there. Buffet and much like Windjammer without the choices. Didn’t eat there otherwise so can’t really comment.
Pizzeria – The pizza we had by the slice was not very good. I saw others ordering custom pizzas that looked better. Probably you’ll end up eating here since it’s easy.
Promenade Café and 270 Café – Will lump these together as this is order from the premade section. Good for a sandwich, wrap, or panani, etc. You can also get a salad here. Good in a pinch and no complaints. Also allows good people watching (Promenade) or a great view (270).
SeaDogs – Go grab a dog and beer. The ones we had were pretty good, and it’s fun to watch the bumper cars and make fun of people.
Michael’s Pub – everything here is ala carte, but the food is good. The fish and chips were very crispy and tasty. The pork sliders are addicting. They also serve their special potato ships with the blue cheese dressing which are also quite addicting. Recommend spending a few bucks here for a snack or lunch. You’ll like it.
Kung Fu Panda Noodle House – on Deck 14 aft by the pool, this is where you will find Johnny Rockets on the Quantum. We had lunch there with some dim sum and noodle soup. I found it all way good, and probably would have hit it again, but we didn’t try it until Day 11. Only complaint is that this area is somewhat cut off from the sea breeze and is a bit stuffy and hot in the day. If the weather is conducive, go visit the Panda, you’ll like it.
Now the specialty restaurants:
Chops- if you cruise Royal, you know Chops. This is the steakhouse you will find on all their ships. We always hit Chops as it never seems to disappoint. The same can be said for this trip. Food and service were great. Definitely hit it once if you like steak and a romantic atmosphere.
Izumi – We had dinner there one night. Everything is very fresh (they got fresh fish in Vietnam the day we ate there) and very good. Cheaper than a sushi dinner back home, but can still add up, particularly if you get some sake. Still, if you like sushi, I recommend. Try to get one of the tables overlooking the Promenade; great way to people watch while eating.
Jamie’s Italian – Do you like pasta? I like pasta. Jamie’s makes pasta there every day from scratch. Go eat the pasta. It’s good…way good…like eat until your stomach hurts good. I also recommend getting the meat and cheese board as an appetizer. Lots of other stuff on the menu, and I’m sure it’s all great. We ate their twice. We ate pasta, then went back again and ate more pasta. Man… that is some good pasta. Spend your money to eat here. If you like pasta I bet you will eat there more than once.
Wonderland – now we get to one of the best restaurants on the seas. We ate at Wonderland on the Quantum. It was so amazingly good, we tried to book again but could not. No mistakes this time as we booked it twice ahead of time. This is not only great dining, but a very cool experience with a whimsical feel from the décor to the waiters to the menu. I can’t really describe the food other than to say it is creative, different, and incredibly tasty. Going twice allowed us to try almost the entire menu. Even though this is the most expensive of the specialty restaurants, you must go. You may end up going twice if you can get back in.
Shows – Disclaimer: my wife and I are not big show people, and though we always say before the cruise “we have to do more shows”, we never seem to. That said, we did make a couple of the shows that may be on your cruise.
The Dream – I thought this was a pretty cool show mainly due to great sets and costumes and use of modern music to drive the story. The story is somewhat confusing in parts, but you’ll probably be able to follow. I’d recommend going for a different experience.
Spectra’s Caberet – This show is in 270 and makes use of the multiple rising stages and the robotic screens with a lot of music and dancing. I found it very entertaining, and it’s worth seeing it if only to see the robotic screens and background visuals when they close the windows with gigantic curtains. Get there early for a good seat.
We did not make the main show, Live, Love, Legs- my understanding is this is a Vegas style showgirl show so if you’re into that, check it out.
Excursions: While your itinerary will probably be different, a few things just in case you visit the same places.
Vietnam (Ho Chi Minh city aka Saigon). We did the On Your Own tour. Usually these are great so you can immerse into local culture and go off the beaten path. No so much here. We did a bit of shopping, but as you venture to far away from the more modern areas you are thrust into the third world. If you are adventurous with that type of stuff, go for it. My wife is not and I deferred to her comfort. We did have a great lunch at the Rex hotel and did find some cool shopping. I suggest taking an organized tour here.
Hong Kong – Shop, shop, til you drop. I love Hong Kong. We had two days there. I could spend a week here easily. We stayed on our own other than the night tour, which was very cool though a bit short and limited in the areas you go to (and lots of sitting in traffic). We ate at a 2 star Michelin restaurant at the Intercontinental for dinner (Yan Toh Heen) Amazingly good. I also got some custom tailored shirts ($260 for 5 shirts, what a bargain) while my wife found clothes at Louis Vuitton, Chanel, and Gucci (not a bargain). Expensive, but she had a blast just getting to try on $5,000 dresses at stores larger than what you see in NYC. Would go back here in a second.
Xiamin – We took the tour to Goulangyu island. This was the tour from hell. The lack of organization would make the Three Stooges, Marx Brothers, and Keystone Cops look like a well-oiled machine by comparison. C’mon Royal, get better at this. After waiting an hour in the terminal, we finally took our ferry to the island only to wait an hour in the blazing sun while our scheduled transport carts were commandeered by the local tourists (our tour staff was way too young and inexperienced to handle). We finally made it to our lunch following a 20 minute ride to the other side of the island (one of the few nice things on this tour). The island is beautiful but lots of construction and the beaches are filthy with trash, which is a real shame. The lunch was good, but then it was back to wait in the sun with crowds of people. We were supposed to go to a puppet show, but we had to wait half an hour in a room that became more and more crowded as the time passed. We set up residence in the last row against the wall to get some coolness from the stone. The puppet show was actually the best part of the tour, and the teenagers that did it are incredibly talented and you could tell they had spent hours of practice. Then it was back in the sun to traipse down small streets with tons of people to get back to where we started. We then got about 15 minutes to do a bit of shopping at the local shops, and then mercifully back to the ferry and the ship. It was shame as this could have been a great tour with the right organization. Do the temple tour if you stop here. If you do go to Goulangyu, may God be with you.
Seoul – We were two and half hours delayed leaving the ship as Royal didn’t account for the extended time with Korean immigration to actually get people off the ship. C’mon Royal, plan better. So we started late, then had to travel about an hour, forty-five minutes to Seoul. We went through the city then to the main temple grounds. We visited the Folk Museum which is small, but is very interesting. The grounds where the temple is located are very nice and we would like to have explored, but then the rains came….and stayed. We crowded under one of the decks for about 30 minutes while the downpour continued. When it finally let up, we were even more behind schedule and had to do a quick tour of the rest of the grounds. We finally got our lunch around 3:30 pm. We went to this extensive buffet (note my feelings about buffets above) and though the food was pretty good, it’s a buffet. Through with that, we went to the tourist trap shop to find trinkets and souvenirs. I’ve never encountered so many people selling crap that didn’t want to haggle. Of course my wife had to buy stuff, but we got away without feeling raped too bad. By this time it was 5:30 which was the time we were supposed to back at the ship. About half our tour wanted to bag the last stop at a street market and go back, but group all traveling together were outrageously obnoxious and demanding (and had been the whole tour) and commandeered our poor tour guide to take them there. So we spent 45 minutes in traffic so this group of people could spend 15 minutes in a street market for more junk. I refused to get off on principle as did many others. So after we finally got this crew back on the bus, we were of course smack in the middle of downtown rush hour traffic. Our trek back to the ship took about two and half hours and we didn’t get back until 8:30. The ship was to port out at 8:00 but waited for us and a few others delayed from the aforementioned immigration fiasco. However, I’m convinced we were the last bus as the ship started moving about 15 minutes later. To the folks on our bus that inconvenienced the rest of us….(Cruise Critic has suggested I remove my profanity laced rant).
Beijing – We did the Wall. I climbed the Wall. It was hard, but it was cool. If you go to Beijing, you have to do the Wall. Our guide was cool and took us to a section not as tourist overrun, but the climb was very steep (49 floors on my FitBit). Amazing view though. We had stopped for lunch at this massive jade shop which I wish we had had more time before the Wall, but oh well. Oh and our driver was a complete jerk. This was our last stop, so just stayed at the hotel as we were flying back the next day Can’t have everything.
If I did these cities again, I’d probably stay on the ship, except for Hong Kong, and maybe Seoul.
Disembarkation: Very smooth, but I give our Genie credit. We had some issue getting our luggage tags as we were going on a tour the next day, but our Genie said not to worry, we won’t need tags, he will personally take care of our bags and put them is a special section for Star Class. True to his word, our bags were right where they needed to be. Our Genie escorted us off the ship, but due to some immigration screw up on his info, he could only get us to the immigration desk. He handed us off to another Royal crew member who took us straight to our bags, escorted us through Customs, and walked us to our coach for our tour. Whole process was about 15-20 minutes, which as great.
Star Class Service and the Genie: there’s been a lot of chatter about this so I’ll tell you my experience. After experiencing Star Class, it will be hard to cruise any other way. You get tons of perks not least of which is the Ultimate Beverage package that if I had purchased for my wife and it would have probably been about $1,500 for a 12 day cruise. You also get all specialty and ala carte restaurants free. You get reserved seating at the shows with prime views. There is a whole list you can see on the website but the gist is the service is awesome. All this is compounded by having a Genie who basically is at your beck and call to do whatever. They will do the usual concierge stuff in terms of reservation, spa appointments, etc., but it was the other things that made it great. We were always escorted or met when disembarking, often around the lines. We got our minibar filled with whatever we wanted, sans hard liquor. One cool thing he did for my wife, who is a martial artist, is make two clubs (I’m pretty sure from a broomstick) to give to her so she could practice. She mentioned it to him, but didn’t have any real expectations. He showed up and brought them by while she was taking a nap (I was up) and it was a nice surprise. We also had issues in the spa (I had a funny incident do to someone taking my robe and me getting locked out of my locker), and the above issues on the excursions. He took it up with the management and got us a 20% voucher for us to apply on our next cruise; that was 20% of the cost of this trip, roughly $2,800. That’s pretty darn impressive service.
There was a lot of questions about tipping the Genie. We tipped $600. This was a 12 night cruise and he did a lot for us. I was going to tip $500 but with what he did with the voucher, I bumped it up. Don’t know if there is a norm, but $40/day or $100/week/person seems about right as a starting point. You can make your own rules if you have a Genie.
Finally, the Missing – This is my gripe paragraph. What we missed: no poker, no craps, not enough of the right type of slots for my wife, no art auctions (big deal for us as we really like to go to these), and a bit of the friendly Royal touch. I had not mentioned above, but overall the service was quite spotty. Not that people didn’t do their jobs, but there just seemed to be an attitude of “why are you bothering me” as well as service being slow in many of the restaurants. C’mon Royal, this is inexcusable. This is a bit of a generalization, and many crew we encountered were quite nice, but overall there seemed to be a courtesy lacking that I’m used to seeing on Royal ships. Not sure why, but I had many other cruisers tell me the same. Royal needs to fix this. Plenty of other ships to visit.
Summary: Overall my wife and I really enjoyed this cruise. She had never been to Asia so it was an eye-opening experience for her. I think she came away with a great appreciation about how good we have it in the States. The ship is very nice, but as I said, different from other Royal ships so expect a few surprises. I know the Ovation will be going between Hong Kong and Australia, so probably some interesting itineraries. If you go, have a great time. I hope the above information was helpful. Read Less