My girlfriend and I booked a 4-night "Tour of Malaysia"--which in reality, was a day in Penang, sandwiched by a day at sea on either side. The primary drivers for booking this cruise were to check out RC's brand new ship, ... Read More
My girlfriend and I booked a 4-night "Tour of Malaysia"--which in reality, was a day in Penang, sandwiched by a day at sea on either side. The primary drivers for booking this cruise were to check out RC's brand new ship, and to enjoy the convenience of taking a cruise out of the city I live in for the first time ever (growing up in the north-eastern US, I always had to fly somewhere in order to board a ship).
Although it was challenging to research the cruise ahead of time given it was a brand new ship, I had come across this wording on multiple websites: “Please note that this cruise is focusing on the Asian market and the service, on-board activities as well as the entertainment on-board will be adapted accordingly.” It made me a bit nervous, but figured it was worth a shot, and worst case scenario, my girlfriend and I spend our sea days relaxing by the pool and enjoying the time away from work.
On embarkation day, we jumped in a taxi from our condo and were at the port in 20 minutes. It was a unique experience for me, but such a relief to not have to worry about flights, possible delays, pre-cruise hotels, Ubers, etc. We had printed our luggage tags in advance and immediately handed our suitcases over curb side. The security line was short, and once through, we were immediately at a check-in desk with a very friendly young man helping us sort everything out. After that was probably the lengthiest part of the check-in process: immigration. But even immigration took only 15 minutes from start to finish. Soon after, we handed over our passports (which felt wrong, but we knew in advance this was the system. We received it all back on day 4 with no issues whatsoever) and were walking towards the ship. We were on-board by about 1:30pm, and immediately headed for our balcony stateroom on deck 8 to drop off our bags (see below for cabin review).
For me, one of the most important parts of any cruise is the food. The Main Dining Room was mostly full every night, but we had no trouble getting a table immediately under the “My Time” dining plan. We were unsure what to expect in terms of cuisine, but the menu was almost entirely western food each night—exactly as I am used to seeing on Caribbean cruises. However, it is very important to point out that we did the “All Access Tour” later on in the trip, and the chef explained that once the ship relocates to Shanghai, the Main Dining Room menu will change over to primarily Asian food. He showed us the wok in the kitchen, stating it is the only RC ship with a wok in the main galley.
The service we received each night was good, but nothing exceptional. One evening my girlfriend found a very large piece of plastic in her mashed potatoes. The chef came out to apologize, explaining that they use plastic to cover the mashed potatoes. He took down our stateroom number, but nothing further ever came of it.
Possibly our worst experience on the entire ship was in the Windjammer. I had read online that the Windjammer was purposely made larger on Spectrum…but it needed to be made much, much larger. On day 1, my girlfriend and I had lunch at the Windjammer. After throwing elbows with our fellow cruisers and getting cut off at every turn, we had our plates full of food. We walked around and around for nearly 10 minutes looking for a table before finally giving up and eating standing up on a counter-top in the Hot Pot area. Eventually a member of the staff saw us and led us to a large table he had just cleared off. I chalked this up to hopefully be a “day 1-only issue”, since no other venues were open. Unfortunately, it was not a day 1-only issue—it was an everyday issue. No matter the time we went to the Windjammer, it was always crowded, and tables were hard to come by. I had heard in advance that cruise ship buffets on Asia-based cruises can be a nightmare, but I figured attending during off-peak times might make this point irrelevant. Sadly, I was wrong, and by day 3 and 4, we did everything we could to avoid the Windjammer. For those who are curious: Sorrento’s Pizzeria and the poolside snack bar are great alternatives when you need a quick bite.
We did not attend any of the specialty up-charge restaurants, which were all Asian, except for Jamie’s Italian (which did not seem well attended throughout our cruise, by the way. I wonder if this was the right move by RC for an Asia-based ship).
Perhaps the biggest difference I observed on this cruise as compared to every other cruise I have been on was the drinking culture (or lack thereof). RC specifically designed Spectrum to have fewer bars, knowing that Asians do not drink as heavily as their American clientele. Well, they were certainly right, and if anything could have removed a few more bars. Any time I wanted a drink, I could walk straight up to a waiting bartender and place my order. It was a nice luxury, but makes me wonder how RC will compensate for the lost alcohol revenue they typically rely on to turn a profit.
On this particular sailing though, they were lucky that the passengers were not heavy drinkers. All the bars were out of most ingredients, and they were even out of Tiger beer from day 1…on a sailing FROM Singapore! A bartender explained to us that a beverage shipment the ship had ordered did not arrive in time. This was incredibly frustrating as most frozen drinks, cocktails, and mocktails were not available. RC had heavily discounted drinks packages before the cruise, and we were very close to pulling trigger on it. Thankfully we decided against it in the end. We would have been very frustrated having paid for an “unlimited drinks” package that actually entitled you to about half of what the ship normally has to offer.
The Bionic Bar is a must attend, however. We had drinks from here twice, and not only is a neat experience to watch a robot make your drink, but the drinks are fantastic.
On the entertainment side of things, RC did very well overall, although there is insufficient seating in the Royal Theatre for a ship this size. The first night was a Beatle’s tribute band, and while they were OK, I felt bad (for the performers) about the number of people who stood up and walked out in the middle of the performance. The main show however, “Showgirls”, was standing room only and no one moved until it was over. Really well done by the performers, though I do wonder how the show will be received by the Chinese market as it was entirely western songs from different decades.
In the 270 venue, we were very fortunate to grab one of the last spots for the day 4 performance of Silk Road. Again this performance was very well done, both by the performers and everyone involved behind the scenes to make the technical aspects work flawlessly.
As far as activities on the ship, we were largely disappointed and very frustrated. We went to guest services at around 6pm on the first day—just hours after boarding—and were told that North Star and iFly were fully booked for the entire cruise. This seemed implausible to me, but apparently some people were able to book these activities in advance of the cruise. I tried to make reservations in advance but could not. I later found out that due to technical issues, some cruisers could not make reservations in advance. In my view, this is completely unacceptable for RC, and robbed me of 2 experiences that had attracted me to this ship in the first place.
For the non-reservation activities, such as the Flow Rider, Sky Pad, and Bumper Cars, the queues were consistently very long. We only had the patience to wait for Sky Pad, which took about an hour, but was very much worth it (recommend taking the Virtual Reality option for a unique experience. The only downside is they do not permit you to do flips when you opt for VR). Oddly, the rock-climbing wall was often empty, and my girlfriend was able to climb it twice without any wait.
The casino was a massive disappointment. It is the largest casino I have ever seen on a cruise ship (again, specially designed for the Asian market), but smoking was permitted. Given the low ceilings, the smell of cigarette smoke was worse than you could ever imagine. This was the first cruise I have ever been on (except for my first ever cruise, when I was 13!) that I did not gamble once.
On day 4, we had signed up for the All Access Tour. We had received a notice the day before that the Engine Control Room would not be accessible, but we would receive $20 per person in on-board credit as a refund. I will not go into every last detail of the tour, but if you are a cruise ship nerd at all (like me), it is absolutely worth the time and money!
On the final day, we were assigned 9:30am as our departure time, and told to meet in the Main Dining Room. We showed up on schedule to the MDR—and there was no one around. Everyone was lined up outside 270, and interestingly most people kept all of their suitcases with them, completely ignoring the usual system. The process looked chaotic, but it only took us about 10 minutes to debark.
Overall, I cannot fault anything about the ship itself. It is brand new and in my opinion, very impressive. There are some key design differences as compared to ships based in other parts of the world, but it still mostly has the look and feel of a Royal Caribbean cruise. It will be interesting to how Spectrum does in the Chinese market, but I would not recommend this ship for Westerners--I think you will be frustrated by your fellow passengers! Read Less