We've done a fair amount of cruising, all on Holland America. We were intrigued by the idea of our first visit to Vietnam being aboard this Royal Caribbean "Voyager of the Seas". I guess we've been spoiled by HAL. ... Read More
We've done a fair amount of cruising, all on Holland America. We were intrigued by the idea of our first visit to Vietnam being aboard this Royal Caribbean "Voyager of the Seas". I guess we've been spoiled by HAL. RCL falls short in so many ways.
Boarding at Singapore was well-organized and moved along well. One of the first indications about our RCL experience - we were asked (no, hassled) about purchasing the "drinks package" no less than eight times while going through the boarding process! We don't understand why anyone would purchase this overpriced addition - we noted that the only ones we found that had purchased it were British passengers. Upon setting food onboard we were greeted not with a hearty "welcome aboard" but ANOTHER pitch to buy the drinks package! Enough already!
Cabin areas were blocked off with signs saying they would not be available until 2pm.
Firstly, our cabin. We had a balcony cabin on deck 8, forward. RCL was advised weeks ago that we would need to have electric at the bedside for a medical device (CPAP). This information never was passed on to the ship. And not only that, but a small powerstrip that is carried for this device was seized during check-in. We all know how busy the crew is on embarkation day, and since this 21-year-old ship has only one electrical connection in the room, it required an extension cable. RCL didn't provide it until after dinner - along with our luggage, which we didn't get until after our 5:30pm dinner time. The cable proved to be a continual annoyance since the ship had no gaffer's tape and refused to do anything to make the situation safe.
When we DID get our luggage, we had to chuck it on the bed - which didn't have the usual leather bedlinen protection we've always had on HAL.
Furniture and fittings in the room were old and tired, as were the bed linens and towels. One of the deck chairs was broken, and huge areas of rust could be seen on our balcony and the balcony of other cabins we visited.
• Our refrigerator never worked properly.
• The sink drain was broken when we embarked, and we asked for it to be fixed. A repairman did visit but didn't have a correct part to make it fully functional again.
• The announcement speaker in the cabins is a nice touch, but ours never worked. When there was an important announcement we had to prop open our door to hear it.
• The room was never OUR temperature; I don't think the thermostat did anything. With a cruise in mostly 90degree tropical temperatures, we never felt the room was cool enough.
• Three days in, we had to make a special request to have our linens changed on the bed. If you don't ask, they won't do it.
• No ice service from the room attendants! Really! Couldn't believe this is the case on RCL.
The lifeboat drill was a joke. This was the first of many problems that RCL has created by having large numbers of passengers from Mainland China with only Mandarin language skills and NO staff or announcements in this language. There WERE announcements in German. Unlike other ships, the attendance at the lifeboat drill was recorded by hand on clipboards instead of by scanning room cards. It was clear that many passengers did NOT attend this drill. Maybe there are not the same legal requirements for this drill as there would be on cruises leaving a US port. I was disappointed with the cavalier attitude by RCL staff during this important exercise.
Many (most?) from Mainland China are very inexperienced travelers and they could have benefitted from some outreach by RCL to them. Instead we had eight days of problems with what looked to be 25-30% of the passengers.
Windjammer Cafe (Buffet)? Had to go there while waiting around for our cabins, which were not available until 2pm. It was packed to overflowing. It was the only time we ate there - shipboard buffets are IMHO hideous. We went up to look a couple times and the food looked mostly unappetizing and uninteresting.
The dining room, three floors tall, was nicely decorated and not noisy. We enjoyed all our meals in the dining room; breakfast, lunch, and dinners (early seating). The breakfast menu got boring quickly and the cheap ingredients were the same as in the buffet. We really dislike the cheap bacon and sausage used in the dining room, and the frozen hash brown potatoes were hideous.
Both breakfast and lunch had a large number of items that had to be personally retrieved from a buffet set up in the middle of the room. We thought this lazy by RCL. If we wanted a buffet we would go to the Windjammer.
At dinner the first night I attempted to order a bottle of wine. Should be easy, right? Nope. RCL has NO wine stewards, and the waiter at our table (who barely spoke any English) was no help. I asked if there was a wine steward in the dining room, but apparently not. I ordered a bottle of a California Cabernet Sauvignon. Sorry, don't have. They didn't have my second or third selection, either. At this point I gave up. Really glad I hadn't purchased the drinks package. LOL
The first morning I ordered a Bloody Mary. NO CELERY? This was just one of many, many cheap cost-cutting decisions that we've not seen elsewhere on a cruise.
Dinners had a wide variety of items, but we found that many were made with cheap ingredients - tough beef, chewy pork, and mostly an indelible duck (that found its way into a duck salad the next night). Even the ice cream was poor quality - but I guess they didn't want to compete with the Ben & Jerry's onboard.
Finally, we were absolutely shocked that Royal Caribbean would charge US$10 for ROOM SERVICE. I asked our room attendant about it and he said "almost no one orders room service, the goal".
Like the rooms, many areas of the ship looked tired and worn-out. The pools were a case in point. However the big atrium area was striking and always busy - as a respite from the small cabins, especially on the three sea days. We don't understand why anyone would buy anything but essentials at the onboard shops, nor do we understand the so-called "art auctions".
We're not much for onboard entertainment, but we did attend a couple shows at least for a while. A female Mongolian singer was hideous - she couldn't even sing in pitch. The juggler and magician were entertaining. But the idea that "world class" entertainment is on a cruise ship is ludicrous.
There was little else to do, especially on the sea days. No cooking classes, no organized exercise or yoga classes. Yes, they have wall climbing and the wave rider. Not interested.
We had two RCL excursions, and two excursions organized via Cruise Critic and other passengers. Vietnam has seen an explosion of tourism the last few years, and this has left their tour industry hustling to catch up. We found all of the tour guides difficult to understand and travelers shouldn't expect the same range of expertise that one would find on other cruises. We knew that going in.
HO CHI MINH (SAIGON)
This RCL tour was replete with problems, mainly of the guide who told stories that were blatant propaganda and largely anti-American. The war ended in 1975 and the guide wasn't old enough to have experienced it first-hand. And towards the end of the day he kept passengers onboard while he attempted to sell a book that were clearly bootleg copies. We reported all the antics to RCL the next day.
Nha Trang is a tender port, and RCL struggled to move passengers ashore for unknown reasons. Our tour, with a company called Shore Excursions, was well-done and interesting. Nha Trang was the most advanced tourism destination of all our port calls and the town was well equipped to handle the influx. The temple visit was interesting, and a half-day boat ride ended at a riverside restaurant. The food was pedestrian and dumbed-down for the tourists, never a good sign. The tour ended at a traditional weaving shop. Nha Trang would be great for a repeat visit.
HUE, HOI AN, & DA NANG
This was also an RCL tour day. The problem at this destination is that the port isn't close to anything. We planned to take the tour to the ancient city of Hoi An. This was a two hour bus ride from the port, and then two hours back. Others who visited Hue, or Da Nang, had similar harrowing stories about the long travel times. And quite often many passengers hope to see a destination "on their own" using a local taxi or Uber to get around. The few taxis at the port wanted US$200 PER PERSON to take people to Da Nang! And the walk from the port to even the nearest village was 10km.
Hoi An was interesting for about five minutes. The town is a backpacker destination and ill-equipped for the large buses which (to the surprise of all the passengers) saw us dropped off in a dusty parking lot over a mile from the town! The more elderly and disabled were unimpressed that RCL hadn't told them of the bad conditions.
We had a great, real Vietnamese meal for a very reasonable price in Hoi An. We also had two experiences of shops trying to rip us off. (Sigh).
HA LONG BAY
Tour choices at Ha Long Bay were either the Ha Long Bay boat tour, or a longish ride to Hanoi for a tour of the capital. We did Ha Long Bay and were very impressed. Again Shore Excursions organized this tour day.
When we booked our cruise with RCL we were told Ha Long Bay was a tender port. And then weeks ago we were told that we would be docking. It was a new cruise terminal built there, and we were one of the first to use it. This made the whole tour day go much smoother, of course. The boat ride through the Ha Long Bay is well organized and a nice relaxing tour. The onboard lunch was adequate, but hardly Vietnamese cuisine.
The internet service on the Voyager of the Seas was far better than what we've had on Holland America, but not able to stream anything despite the hype. We purchased service for two devices but could not get it to work on more than one. Onboard support was non-existent.
Windows everywhere on the ship were filthy, all the time. I commented on this to several staff but was greeted with shrugs.
There didn't seem to be enough staff on this cruise liner. Room attendants were rarely seen; they had too many rooms assigned to them. We've had "relationships" with room attendants and dining room staff on all our previous cruises. Not so here - they were all too busy. Long lines at the Guest Services counter were a fixture, as were staff who spoke little English. Officers were rarely seen, either.
The drinks package wasn't the only thing that was being pushed incessantly. So were the "specialty restaurants". We thought them grossly overpriced and with the pedestrian quality of the meals generally, we had no illusions that these options restaurants would be any better.
Conclusion? We never expected that there would be such a wide variation in the quality and experience between cruise lines - we naively assumed they were all pretty close in overall quality.
We'll never go on a Royal Caribbean Cruise again. Read Less