On August 25 I embarked Ovation of the Seas on one of the ship’s last trips in China. The ship is newly built and sent to China immediately. It is returning to the US but this does not mean RCI is quitting the area, as they will deploy an even newer ship of the same class to the China seas next year, while Princess and Norwegian are retreating (it is a joke that NCL took away the 160000-ton Norwegian Joy and replaces it with the very old and practically un-refurbished Norwegian Spirit, well-known to this market as the former SuperStar Leo (particularly this old ship suffered a 24-hour power loss recently).
I have of course cruised on RCI before but too long ago, and the brand has not been my favorite. But what a pleasant surprise, and what a proof why RCI is the most successful operator while Princess and NCL failed in this region. Immediately I notice good things:
(1) It is not fully localized and retains elements of a real international cruise, and it is the first time I saw many Australian joining a China cruise.
(2) It is quiet, stateroom well-insulated and no unnecessary announcement as on MOST big ship soliciting your business
(3) Hospitality was generally good and the local Chinese recruits were professional, unlike on other ships.
(4) The ship sails full load at 4700 but it still feels spacious enough
(5) There are photographers but not the intrusive kind.
(6) Most passengers are Chinese so most announcement are for them, but there is always a statement that “the following announcement are for Chinese passengers only”, showing respect for the minority.
Shopping is a highlight, high street type shops usually seen in RCI ships are changed to Cartier, Prada, Omega. The shopping was tremendous to the extent that even I bought something (I almost never buy anything on a ship). Wonder how they will deal with the luxury shops aimed at the Chinese on return to Alaska.
The stateroom was small but well-designed, and it is equipped with tea making facilities (hope this remain in the US). It had a fridge, slippers, and bath robes not to be seen in most ships of a simple balcony cabin.
There are more than 5 inclusive eating places in the dinner time in addition to the most popular buffet. The main restaurants open in slightly different time and operate in a free seating system, but there are plenty of tables for me to enjoy solo dining.
Dining food was not impressive but it is the buffet that scores! I intend to vote it the Best Buffet of any big ship I have been on. Food is plentiful and in many varieties, and well-cooked. The Chinese food is Chinese-Chinese, not American-Chinese as on NCL and Princess.
There are other dining outlets that charge. The steak house and Italian are not bad, but the Japanese is entirely American-Japanese.
RCCL excels in shows and here they have a show on a specially designed lounge of some technical innovation. The productions shows are big but just many people moving on the stage, without impressive choreography and good singers. However it was good to see the very attractive and sexy Taiwan violinist Venus Tsai again as headliner show host, after seeing her only months ago on Princess. So I was happy with the show time offer as well.
If my expectation was not high, the real impression far exceeds my expectation and this cruise brings me back to RCCL, to compete with and to beat NCL and Princess and Costa. RCCL may probably win my patronage, along with MSC.
The 7-night trip is considered long for China but it pays off with full attendance. The call to Fukuoka was good and convenient for shoppers, the other two ports caters for excursionists. But it took too long to go to Kyoto, as it was a real disaster to embark in Tienjin allegedly Beijing. But as a whole the cruise was enjoyable and it was almost a blessing that despite very strong winds the sail was smooth.
Not bad, good shower, water kettle very useful.