I never learn do I?
For my first cruise in July I made the mistake of going on the cruise review and news sites of which this one is a leading light, and reading the reviews of the cruise I was about to take. My concerns after reading ... Read More
I never learn do I?
For my first cruise in July I made the mistake of going on the cruise review and news sites of which this one is a leading light, and reading the reviews of the cruise I was about to take. My concerns after reading the reviews for my July cruise were proven once again to be utterly unfounded. Despite this, having read the reviews I arrived in Singapore on the 21st of December convinced I’d made a huge mistake. Mariner Of The Seas was, apparently, a rusty and wholly impractical antique, cramped and buckling under the weight of all the terrible food and useless features. A festering, cigarette-reeking pit of poor service, rude passengers, tatty upholstery and the like. I was reminded of a British Rail ferry trip I took more than three decades ago.
Imagine my surprise then, to rock up (grumpy, intolerant and sore-headed after a big night in Clarke Quay the previous evening) at the lovely new cruise terminal and to see MOTS gleaming there in white looking anything but grubby or antique.
Singapore Cruise Terminal is nice. It is very well designed and its architecture evokes ocean waves breaking on the shore. It handles thousands of passengers with ease and is unfussy and uncluttered. We managed kerb to ships’ rail in less than 40 minutes and most of that was the queue for immigration.
THE MARINER OF THE SEAS
MOTS is the last of the five Voyager Class vessels that RCCL ordered in the late 90s. At 138,000 gt she is joint 18th largest cruise ship in the world and joined the fleet in 2003, making her 13 years old. Hardly ancient. She was given a big refit in 2012. I was struck by her Promenade Walk which is a lovely space although it does get busy in the evenings and on sea days, I think partially because RCCL put pop-up shop stalls there. She had clearly been in some weather on the previous cruise as her outer decks and windows were covered in salt residue from the waves but I saw no indication that she was anything other than beautifully kept. I’d seen guests mention words like “rusty” and “unkempt” in previous reviews but I saw nothing like that. Carpets were lustrous and clean, skirting boards were unscuffed.
MOTS is not an old vessel and she is very well-appointed indeed in her public spaces. There was nice artwork to look at and plush carpets everywhere. She is spotlessly clean. My impression is that she was flashier and more “bling” than Royal Princess, certainly there seemed to me to be more in the way of features and things to do than on Princess.
The muster drill on RCCL does not require you to put on a lifejacket and it does not require you to know where your muster station is, merely that if the alarm goes off you need to head to a certain place and staff will sort you out. It was a much more “dumbed down” process than the stringent and very slick one on Princess and I wonder if this is because of the very high number, proportionately, of first time cruisers taking MOTS itineraries in Asia compared say, to Princess in the Med. Perhaps it also has something to do with the information being read out in English and dizzyingly fast Mandarin. We noticed there were a lot of Cantonese-speaking mainland Chinese, Japanese, Cambodians and Thais on the cruise who I think probably struggled with what was trying to be communicated to them. It was so noisy and bustling in the packed showbar that I struggled to make out the instructions clearly. I have worked at sea before so I was able to explain the necessities to my companions but the big tour groups of Chinese seemed more interested in talking (loudly) amongst themselves than listening to the safety brief which does make me wonder how they might react if the lights went out and the emergency signal started to ring. Not favourably would be my guess. I’m not sure what more RCCL could have done though. People are people I guess.
MOTS is a massive cruise ship and in common with Royal Princess I took in the summer, I was extremely impressed at her seakeeping. She doesn’t really pitch or roll per se (although we never encountered anything remotely challenging in terms of sea state) but shivers very slightly, almost imperceptibly, along her length. I believe it was the dampening moment effect of the stabilisers. Either way, MOTS is a fantastic seakeeper and you would be going some to feel motion discomfort on her I think. Nervous sailors might also take some comfort in the stabilisers being deployed even in fine weather with slight sea conditions. No question of keeping them stowed to save fuel costs here. From the movement of the ship I must touch on the movement of her passengers. The flow of people on the megaships, of which MOTS is still one despite her age, is a studied and nuanced science and I am pleased to report that, 70s Disco Party on the Promenade aside, there were no bottlenecks. I never felt crowded.
I must report the one of the biggest wins for RCCL versus the scathing reviews I’d read was the food. My companions were not absolutely enamoured with the Windjammer fayre but I thought it approximately the equal of the Horizon on Princess (supposedly a slightly more “premium” line). The food was good overall and there were no misses in terms of taste. It wasn’t amazing but then when are buffets ever really amazing? The Asian palate was well taken care of and there was always lots of interesting things to try and try I did. The criticism I could level at the Windjammer stems largely from its location and associated lack of outdoor space. As a result it does get a bit hectic at main meal times and tables are hard to find. It did get very busy in there. I have an impression that a lot of the Asian guests aboard didn’t bother with the main dining room or speciality dining options in the evenings and ate there all week, perhaps because of an (unfairly) perceived lack of Asian options outside the ship’s only dedicated Asian food area – Jade in the Windjammer area. So you may be able to understand how busy it was. Even so the food was good and I never had much of a wait to get a table. The bread was fresh, soups tasty and well-seasoned. The bright and vibrant salad and fruit options were very attractive and the stodgier main meal options were flavoursome and filling. There was always some nice looking Indian and Indian vegetarian options, complete with fluffy paratha breads, on which I liked. My companions found some of the food to be a little on the tepid/cool side for their tastes but I had no issue with it. It’s a buffet. You want choice, you want interest, you want taste and flavour and you want big plates to pile it all on. Windjammer does that very effectively.
The main dining was a huge hit for me. Spread over three levels it is a sprawling and rather glamourous affair, with the menu changing nightly. They must get through about 2000 covers in there every night at least and the speed and efficiency of service is hugely impressive. The food itself was more consistently excellent and generously portioned than on Princess and I’d say the standout dishes were equally as wonderful and memorable on both lines. Highlights for me were the fantastic RCCL lasagne, the little bowl of superbly authentic New England clam chowdaaah, the melt-in-the-mouth beef tenderloin and the jumbo shrimps which were truly lovely. Everything was delivered with a smile and a personal touch which was consistently very good every night. The menu had enough to keep me interested and I can only applaud the organisation and preparation and skill involved in bringing it from quayside to table. Trust me it’s a lot – LOT – harder than they make it look.
I enjoyed very much my first encounter with Chops Grille. You may have gleaned from this thorough and exhaustive review that I am an RCCL convert – read on – and one of the things that loyal RCCL cruisers do point to when they sing of the wonders of this cruise line is the Chops Grille. There is one on every RCCL ship. It is Michelin-starred level fine dining steak enjoyment and the meat is exactly as they say it is – curated, kept, aged and cooked to perfection. The de Rothschild Merlot and the stunning Pinot Noir were very much enjoyed as an accompaniment. Remember to save room for the red velvet cake and the mud pie. They are, even in the company of such exalted food, special indeed.
Special footnote for the Dog House. Not open very often but genuinely wonderful when it was. I find it difficult to get excited by boiled brats and bleached buns but these are high quality sausages in a range of very interesting flavours, all the toppings you could want and the buns/bread is good too. As I say, its only a hot dog so no need to go crazily over-effuse but it is a very good hotdog indeed, that I can assure you. I didn’t get round to going to Johnny Rockets but if it is like the ones we have in Dubai I know what to expect – all good fun, nothing too adventurous, good burgers etc.
I’m British. I love a drink. I love more than one in fact. I found MOTS to be a lot of fun, and superior in every way to Princess on the drinking front. The Wig & Gavel pub on the promenade was great and they have such an amazing range of drinks. Irtukt was a real laugh. The Ellington’s jazz lounge bar up in the Viking Crown Lounge area was a cool, chilled and visually stunning place to put a few G&Ts away. The Pool Bars were nice and did excellent frozen margaritas. Umesh and Dinesh the bar guys there were lovely blokes and I really enjoyed spending a few hours with them. Dmitryo in the Casino Bar was the star of the show though – I do wonder if, with the greatest of respect, RCCL know they have one of the most startlingly talented mixologists I’ve ever been privileged enough to watch work, humbly slinging bottled beers in their casino? I know a bit about mixology and the science behind it, I stay at very nice hotels in London, New York, Tokyo, Europe and elsewhere all the time with work and I get to experience mixology couture first hand a lot. I’m a cocktail nut. Dmitryo should be revamping the group’s cocktail lists and getting top management to try his creations. He’s an incredible talent who knows his art and takes it very seriously. If RCCL are reading this – get him to make you his eggless New York whiskey sour with merlot (yes really) and his (as yet unpatented) Orange Girder, like alcoholic Irn Bru in a Martini glass. Or speak to him about the things he can do with Acai berries and vodka. Just ask him. Seriously. The guy needs to be front and centre on your New York or Florida departures, he’s something special and a very nice guy to boot. Not a whiff of the hipster pretentionist to him. Wasted on short Asian itineraries just pouring whiskies and opening beers for people who don’t generally drink cocktails or speak English!
Very well done and full of verve and energy. The ice shows are spectacular. There is a lot less live music on RCCL than on Princess though.
75% Chinese, 15% other Asian, 10% British/Aussie/US/European. Generally well behaved but formal night was observed by less than half. I was walking round in my tuxedo and Asian passengers kept asking me for directions and information as they thought I worked for RCCL! No frat boy/alcoholic types on this cruise, everyone was well-behaved and if there was drunken shenanigans they were largely mine and I was pespectful and rolite. Hic.
The flowrider sim was a miss on the stern and I think would have done great business had it been installed. The mini golf back nine needs some TLC as the sun has blistered some the greens. There also needs to be four or five more table tennis tables. Watching hordes of Chinese clustered around playing it with astonishing skill is something not to miss if you like people-watching. Do note how full the dominoes/Mah Jong room gets in the afternoon. Man those Chinese love their parlour games! I didn’t do the wall but wish I had, it looked great.
I think my American brothers and sisters would call this a home run. Princess were great but RCCL knocked it out of the park. This is one oft-repeated criticism I cannot for the life of me understand. Fine, I get food is a subjective thing and so on every sailing there will be people who don’t find the food to their taste so think the food is bad. But the criticism of the service I simply cannot wrap my head around. Sullen? Unsmiling? Unhelpful? Rude? …Seriously? I found the service to be absolutely without exception, first class. I live in Dubai and so we are used to bad service so perhaps we are more attuned to good service when we get it just because of how rarely it happens here. But I found RCCL’s staff to be incredibly helpful and happy and smiley. They go for months without a day off, they have to put up with all manner of nightmares on a daily basis and were without their families at Christmas time on this cruise. I would have forgiven a few glum expressions but there was none of it. Everyone was helpful, kind, funny and grinning. In that genuine nice way not the Styrofoam sickly way you get sometimes. I really enjoyed getting to know several of the crew and spent many hours chatting to them. It is a very tough and demanding job they do – I know, I’ve done it many years ago myself – and I am so impressed at how wonderful they were. Grooming standards were immaculate, there always seemed to be someone to help right when you needed them and the professionalism was top end. I had a nightmare with my useless Dubai bank and they handled it beautifully. One of my companions unluckily fractured her foot in a mis-step getting onto the tender in Phuket and spoke to me in very glowing terms about the medical staff as well. The little touches are what make the difference. The Hotel Services Manager and the head Maitre’D both came to introduce themselves personally and there were a few calls to the cabin from various staff just checking I was ok, was I having a great time, was there anything else they could do, anything I wanted etc. Not intrusive, just really nice.
Lastly a little footnote of pure charm that even now makes me grin all over my chubby little face. Anyone who had followed me on twitter knows I love cruising, football and Star Wars and recently went to see the new Rogue One film, emerging from the cinema in absolute raptures about how amazing it was. RCCL follow me on twitter and put a Rogue One cake and some Star Wars toys in my cabin for me as a little surprise. How good is that? I was absolutely gobsmacked and a little bit touched.
Surprisingly fast. Not cheap at all but certainly very quick and easy. Very impressive given the number of people on the ship.
RCCL VS PRINCESS
RCCL is a broader, more intense and more fun-loving experience than Princess, with more to do and more to experience. Princess I think is more about the relaxation angle. There is very little to choose between the two in terms of food and service, both are superb and far better in my experience than the legion of professionally miserable reviewers would have you believe. Princess is slightly more refined in some ways but pound for pound (or should I say dollar for dollar?) I think that while Princess is more premium, for the bits that matter most to me, RCCL has the edge. I’ll probably think differently when I’m 45+.
MOTS VS ROYAL PRINCESS
MOTS is near enough the same size as the much newer Royal Princess and is an equally fantastic experience. There is almost nothing to choose between the two. Royal Princess looks quite a lot bigger but feels a bit smaller. Design wise she is more chic and upmarket than the MOTS but MOTS is more impactful in her major public areas; Promenade, scenic elevators, lots more glass everywhere etc.
There were a few things I didn’t like or would like to have seen improved. MOTS’ last refit was in 2012 so she is probably due one in the next couple of years and having her running Asian itineraries opposite brand new and state-of-the-art Quantum Class vessels would require some modernisation and a rethink of her Asian F&B offerings. As mentioned, the flowrider would have been great as nobody used the skating track. I’d like to have seen a dedicated sports bar on MOTS, and there were a few places they could put one that didn’t seem to be used much. The port side of the Casino was shuttered off into high roller tables that were being used for storage and I cannot help but think a sports bar enclosed there would do very well. Perhaps move the (too large) Casino bar to the starboard side? Another miss for me was the lack of a dedicated hotpot restaurant which I think would have helped ease some of the congestion in the Windjammer. I likely would not have visited but a mainland Cantonese or Szechwan hotpot offering instead of the rather contrived and not-well-advertised side effort in Chops would be much more appealing to Chinese guests, who make up the bulk of MOTS’ passengers. I also think RCCL should try very hard to put one of their trademark Izumi outlets on MOTS as I think it would have done very well as well. I wasn’t especially impressed with the Dragon’s Lair nightclub either. It was unnecessarily gloomy, confused, poorly-advertised and seemed an odd space to put a nightclub. The music was poor, there seemed almost no people in there and it didn’t make me want to stick around. I’d guess it would be much better patronised on Aussie sailings. Even so, opening up that section and putting in the (overly large I thought) arcade / play area from 11 Deck would open up the area next to Johnny Rockets for an Izumi or hotpot outlet and I think that would be a better use of the space. Another thing that didn’t make much sense to me was the internet café area with the PCs. Given that most passengers in Asia own at least one smartphone I do not really see the necessity. If they did want to keep it, perhaps tie it in with Apple/Microsoft/Samsung to have a retail outlet there where you can buy laptops, tablets, phones and accessories? Little Starbucks in there too perhaps with some sofas? I also think that the top deck pool area, whilst lovely, would benefit from the addition of a couple of waterslides. The area either side of the Pool Bar/Sky Bar is empty and assuming some waterslides wouldn’t interfere with the nearby telecoms/satcom domes, a slide down from 12 to 11 deck would be a nice addition. As far as improvements to the cabins go, it is really only the TV screens and the shower heads that need replacing. Perhaps a little modernisation of the décor, carpets etc and a Nespresso machine maybe? OK I’m getting greedy now.
Another amazing cruise and another experience where I am left scratching my head about where some of the other reviewers are getting such negative views from? I have bad days like anyone else but imagine being determined to find fault in everything and being convinced your head will explode if you dare to say anything nice. That’s not me. I’m just a guy who loves the sea and loves cruising. I love good food and I love a few drinks and a laugh while I do it. I absolutely loved RCCL and MOTS. It is me as a person, embodied in a cruise experience. I thought the food and drink and service was top class and impossible to fault, even though the misery brigade try very hard. It is the perfect blend of fun family holiday, sophisticated adult breakaway, rest, relaxation and laughter. What’s not to like? Its five star service, food, drinks and activities with a different destination every day for a three star price. If you do it and you laugh half as much as my companions and I did all trip then I guarantee you it is money well-spent. Absolutely brilliant. I’m going to try Celebrity next to see how they get on, but it will have to be pretty flippin’ amazing to be as good overall as RCCL.
Thank you Royal Caribbean, you have a customer for life now. CM Read Less