I suppose you could say it was our own fault booking a Chinese sector cruise. We should have known what to expect, but we didn't. We had based our choice on our previous experiences on the Ovation's sister quantum class ship - ... Read More
I suppose you could say it was our own fault booking a Chinese sector cruise. We should have known what to expect, but we didn't. We had based our choice on our previous experiences on the Ovation's sister quantum class ship - the Anthem of the Seas. We enjoyed two cruises on the Anthem, one from Southampton and one from New York and both experiences were excellent. On both those occasions we enjoyed very good food and excellent entertainment, the complete opposite in fact of what we experienced on the Ovation.
Embarking the ship was very good, with a smooth check-in experience, no doubt helped by the priority given to our diamond class status. We were on the ship within 20 minutes, still too early to access our cabin but with plenty of time to grab a bite to eat and a drink. The bite to eat presented the first disappointment. We chose to visit the Windjammer buffet restaurant and even though the ship was only partially full at that time the Windjammer appeared very busy with very few tables available. However, we persevered, found a table and made our way to the food stations. That was when we first realised we were on a Chinese sector cruise as the vast majority of what was on offer was Chinese and Asian cuisine. Now I don't mind such cuisine as we regularly partake of Chinese, Thai and Indian cuisine at home and I did sample a few offerings, but unfortunately none tasted particularly good. In fact the dishes were so bland and lacking in eastern/oriental spicing that I could have been eating anything. The only thing that was of a reasonable and consistent standard was the daily offering of Chinese soups, usually an egg drop derivative. During the whole 10 day cruise I only enjoyed one eastern dish in the Windjammer and that was the butter chicken on the 2nd last day of the cruise.
We tended to avoid the Windjammer on sea days primarily as the Chinese guests queued up very early for the restaurant opening, sometimes a hundred or more deep. Then when the doors opened many blatantly avoided washing their hands. Yes they would enter the washing stations at one end and go out the other without their hands seeing a drop of soap and water. We later learned that there was norovirus on the ship, with perhaps this non-hand washing by some guests being at least partially contributory. Towards the end of the cruise we couldn't get any olives, lime, lemon, etc., in our drinks due to the spread of the illness. On most ships we have cruised on at mealtimes in the buffet restaurant we would grab a couple of glasses of water, find a table, dump our stuff and water, then go and get food. This wasn't allowed on the Ovation with regular announcements that you couldn't reserve a table for yourself and that it was essentially first come, first served - a free for all - when it came to getting a seat at a table. So what you had were loads of people getting food on their plates then wandering around with their food waiting for a space at a table to appear, all the while your food was getting colder, not that it was particularly hot in the first place (other than the soup that was generally hot).
Our experience in the formal restaurants wasn't much better. The food was generally ok but never great. My wife was attracted to what was described as an 'English classic' on the menu one evening, steak and kidney pie and on arriving at the table it certainly had the appearance of the dish it purported to be - that was until my wife cut into the pie to find it full of kidney beans and vegetables and a few cubes of beef, but not a bit of kidney in evidence. The chef's interpretation of the dish you might say, but certainly not the dish we were expecting. Another night and another English classic, shepherd's pie, was so full of gristle and fat my wife couldn't eat it and it was made with beef (cottage pie) not lamb. On two occasions I ordered a sirloin steak, medium rare, and on both occasions they were delivered at the correct cooking temperature, but were quite tasteless with no hint whatsoever of having been grilled. Service in the formal restaurant was a bit hit and miss. One evening we were sitting at a table for two and being served our main course when a table for six that arrived 20-30 minutes after us were already completing their meal. We complained and things improved slightly after that. Don't expect a decent hamburger on the ship. The burger 'offerings' in the Windjammer left much to be desired and there is no 'Johnny Rockets' on the Ovation in which to enjoy a classic burger and beer battered onion rings. What you have in its place is a 'Kung Fu Panda' noodle and dim sum station. My wife and I are both Diamond members with Royal Caribbean and on the Ovation the 'Diamond Lounge' each evening from 5-8.30 pm was in 'Vintages Bar'. The snacks provided in the diamond lounge were better than in the buffet restaurant, albeit of 3 hot options 2 were always Chinese/Asian, despite the fact that very few if any Chinese guests used the diamond lounge. The pizza squares provided were scrumptious and much, much better than the pizza in the Sorrento pizza bar. On a couple of occasions we actually missed going to dinner as we had eaten enough snacks at the diamond lounge and the main restaurant was so underwhelming anyway.
Our cabin was good. We had opted for a deluxe balcony cabin near the front stairs. It had a very deep balcony (12 feet or so) angled towards the back of the ship and provided very good views. It was well maintained by the cabin steward throughout the cruise. As in previous cruises on the Anthem the cabin provided ample storage space. If there was a slight disappointment it was in the lack of provided toiletries other than a dispenser in the shower with some nondescript '2 in 1 shampoo', whatever that means. A bar of soap was also provided. Now we always bring our own toiletries anyway,but I like to compare what individual cruise companies provide, with even TUI/Marella providing 'White Company' products.
The deluxe drinks package that was part of our cruise deal wasn't nearly as comprehensive as some others we have enjoyed. Yes it did provide bottled water, cans of soft drinks and premium spirits, etc., but it was the first all inclusive drinks package I have experienced that didn't routinely allow double measures. When you consider the standard measure for spirits on the cruise was 1 fluid ounce or 28.5 ml (slightly more than half a miniature) and this was delivered in a glass full of ice and your requested mixer, the net result is that I could have been drinking anything. We did eventually find a bar that was prepared to provide doubles and having these in short glasses with only a bit of ice and less mixer at least we did taste the spirit. At other bars the alternative was to order your drink then a few minutes later order a straight spirit to add to the drink. That being said all the bar and waiter staff were friendly approachable throughout the cruise - always a smile - always prepared to chat. Did you know that bar staff are paid solely on commission - 60 cents per drink - and I'm sure that at the bar they did serve doubles when requested that they put the order through twice and I'm entirely ok with that.
The itinerary on this cruise was interesting with four ports of call in Japan. We booked tours on all but the last port of call but they were generally uninspiring and not particularly good value. The exception was the trip in Nagasaki where we visited the Peace Park, 'Ground Zero' and the War Museum. This was a very poignant and moving experience. The other tours were generally around visiting a park, visiting a Shinto shrine and another local highlight, including queuing for an hour to get up a sightseeing tower for 5 minutes to get back down again before the tour bus moved on. At the last port of call - Shimonoseki - we were on a 'wait list' for a particular tour and when that didn't happen we opted for a shuttle bus into town and I'm glad we did, as we saw and enjoyed more on that trip than on any of the organised and much more expensive shore excursions. There was a beautiful Shinto shrine near the shuttle bus drop off point and just round the corner there was a modern and extensive aquarium with dolphin and penguin shows and much more (£7 entry fee). Also we had time to savour local food, teriaki chicken skewers, which was excellent (and very cheap).
Entertainment was another big disappointment. On the Anthem of the Seas we had been thrilled with full length, 90 minute plus, presentations, such as 'We Will Rock You', 'The Gift', etc. These very professional productions used separate entertainers than the 'standard production group' and they were excellent. There was nothing like this on the Ovation. It was the usual 40 minute production shows, where the dancers were very energetic and very good but the singers, particularly the female singers, were generally mediocre. Guest artists were also generally disappointing and a much lower standard than we have experienced on previous Royal Caribbean and other cruises. The exception being a female singer Lalique who provided a very good performance. On previous cruises on Anthem we were thrilled with the resident band 'Rock the Boat' who played a huge array of classic rock music from through the ages in the Music Hall venue on the ship . We were very disappointed, therefore, that 'Rock the Boat' left the Ovation before it started it's Chinese/Eastern itineraries to be replaced by a Philipino band, who were ok but not particularly inspiring. That was when you could hear them at all as most of the time on the top level of the Music Hall all you could hear was the clattering from several tables of Chinese guests playing Mahjong - what a racket. The other band on the ship played mainly Mandarin songs and they were also ok. We tended to end up in the 'Amber & Oak' pub' most evenings where the resident guitarist/vocalist Rob was very good.
As you might have expected most of the customer service, etc., staff on the ship were Chinese, no doubt to accommodate the majority of guests on the ship who were Chinese. That being said there were several occasions in shops on the ship when staff clearly didn't understand what was being asked of them, e.g. I had bought 2 litres of spirits in the liquor store and on asking the shop assistant if the bottles would be delivered to my cabin or I had to collect them she responded by asking 'you want to know your limits?' We had similar experiences elsewhere in the ship.
Disembarking the ship was the complete opposite of our embarkation experience. We had a time slot identified when to leave the ship and collect our baggage in the baggage hall off the ship. However, due to the very many self-disembarking Chinese guests there were huge queues leaving the ship and it took the best part of an hour to get off the ship.
So what are our overall thoughts on the cruise. We liked the ship itself, much as we did the Anthem of the Seas. It is a beautiful ship with lots of room and areas to visit but the ship did seem more crowded than our previous experiences on the Anthem. In navigating stateroom corridors we did observe that many of the cabins occupied by Chinese guests were full occupancy, i.e. utilising the sofa beds in the cabin for additional guests, so this may account for the apparent increase in numbers in guest areas. The lifts/elevator experience was a particularly good illustration of the crowding in popular areas and perhaps what the Chinese guests themselves are used to in Hong Kong. On many occasions a lift would stop at a floor and Chinese guests would simply 'pour' in allowing little or no 'personal space' - very tricky if you are trying to balance a couple of drinks in your hands to enjoy on the cabin balcony at 'sail away'. We didn't enjoy the food and overall we didn't enjoy the entertainment. It is highly unlikely, therefore, that we would ever book on the Ovation of the Seas again, particularly if it is a cruise starting/returning to a port China. As experienced cruisers we should have known better. We will certainly research our cruise choices much more thoroughly in future. Read Less