The Good and The Bad - An in-depth review of Ovation of the Seas cruise (Singapore-Penang-Singapore, 15 to 19 March, 2017)
My family, including 2 young children and a grandmother, went on an OOTS 4-night cruise over the March school holidays.
Pre-embarkation Corporate Communications
[-] Existence of comms - DISAPPOINTINGLY POOR. Although my wife had purchased the cruise package in Aug 2016 (7 months before D-day), there was virtually no corporate communication from either Cruise1st.sg nor Royal Caribbean Singapore, nor RCCLApac to inform passengers what they are expected to do in the pre-embarkation period. For example, passengers should be informed (e.g. via email) that the schedule of timelines/deadlines are as follow:
1. 14 Dec 2016 (D – 91 days): Online check-in opens.
2. 21 Jan 2017 (D - 80 days): Onboard Activities/My Time Dining open for pre-booking.
3. 28 Feb 2017 (D – 14 days): Deadline for booking of activities using Cruise Planner
4. 9 Mar 2017 (D – 7 days): Deadline for online check-in
5. 15 April 2017 (D day): Date of departure
[-] While there were some miscellaneous emails from Cruise1st.sg in Dec 2016 (e.g. softcopy receipts of our bookings), there were none on what passengers need to do by when. I was particular interested to know when the onboard activities/My Time Dining are available for pre-booking, as I had understand that spaces were extremely limited. When I called them up, they unsatisfactorily informed that I need to log into the RCI portal EVERYDAY to manually check if the activity is open for booking or not. I literally did that EVERYDAY from November 2016 until Mar 2017, and it was a TERRIBLE INEFFICIENT USE OF GUESTS’ TIME.
[-] Speed of comms - I had sent an email to APACRES@rcclapac.com on 29 Dec 2016 seeking further clarification on the abovementioned deadlines. The reply only came only on 10 Jan 2017 (12 days later), even though this should have been a straightforward factual reply. In addition, although an email came from Cruise1st.com.sg eventually (3 Feb 2017 (D – 67 day)) with the cruise documents and notification that online booking is open, it came way too late given that most of the booking slots have been taken by then.
[-] Inconsistency of comms - There was inconsistency in when the onboard activities become available for booking. For example, booking of the Dreamworks Character Breakfast (and some other spa treatments) became available on 21 Jan 2017 (D – 80), but the iFly and North Star only became available a week later on 28 Jan 2017 (D – 73 days). If passengers had logged in earlier and only saw the Dreamworks Character Breakfast, they might have thought that the other activities were not available for booking and hence never log in again. DRIP-FEEDING of information is not desirable.
[-] Lack of explanation in comms – It is helpful to explain why certain onboard activities were strangely NOT available for pre-booking, given that RCCL highly recommended passengers to do so in the past, e.g. Royal Theatre shows, FlowRider. This was why when I saw the unusual instructions in RCCLApac’s email 1 Mar 2017 (D – 14 days), I immediately emailed them seeking confirmation and rationale. Unfortunately, they fudged and did not answer my queries properly.
[-] Website – 2 major areas of improvement:
1. Questionable need for 2 websites (www.RoyalCaribbean.com.sg and www.RoyalCaribbean.com). One may have thought that the Singapore website is targeted at cruises departing from Singapore, and hence provide more info than the international website for such cruises. But this wasn’t the case. Oddly, the international website contained MORE useful practical info (e.g. on the OOTS webpage, the international website had a convenient “Learn More About” sidebar that contained hyperlinks to “Accessibility Features”). Furthermore, passengers who booked Singapore cruises were asked to counter-intuitively asked to log into the international website to prebook activities through the Cruise Planner (the Cruise Planner and “Already Booked” links are either non-existent on Singapore website, or deeply hidden within).
2. Lack of detailed useful content on the website(s). Both websites were woefully short of useful and easily clickable info that would sway a potential customer’s decision whether to book a cruise with RCCL or not, e.g.:
a. Age/ height restrictions/ opening hours of the various Onboard Activities - young children may not qualify. Make clear that age is computed based on birthdate, not just birth-year, e.g. my son was just 2 weeks short of his 6th birthday, but he was stopped from taking part in the Trapeze after queueing for an hour, only to find out at the last minute he wasn’t eligible.
b. Synopsis of Royal Theatre shows. I was interested to see JC Sum’s magic performance, but there was no info on what shows were available except for Pixels in Two70.
c. Clothing requirements for specific activities (e.g. need for socks and long pants for roller-skating). There are luggage packing implications, given that most passengers would come in their bermudas and sandals/flip-flops. Such key info should not just appear in the FAQ.
o Ironically, the blogs and forums at CruiseCritic and Cruiseline, and even local discussion board Hardwarezone contained much more useful info than RCCL’s own websites, and helped me to (a) decide to cruise with RCCL, and (b) plan my itinerary. This shouldn’t be the case. Indeed, given that company policy and product descriptions do change from time to time, the company website should the one offering the most authoritative, updated and comprehensive info. Be assured that I am not the only passenger who encountered confusion and frustration both pre-sale and post-sale due to the poor communication of information.
Embarkation was a 6-step process at the Marina Bay Cruise Centre:
1. Drop-off of check-in luggage: Upon getting off the taxi at the drop-off zone, there will be 2 booths outside the glass door entrance. The booth in the middle of the drop-off zone is for passengers who have already printed and attached luggage tags onto their check-in luggage. You just pass your bag to the guys in corporate attire (white long-sleeved shirt, black pants and blue tie) near the cordoned off area in the middle of the drop-off zone. The other booth, at the extreme right end of the drop-off zone is for those who haven’t print and attached their luggage tags. Similarly-dressed guys there will assist you (SUGGESTION to MBCC: Have taller, bigger signage. Better still: put this info on RCCL website or pre-cruise instruction documents, or at least hyperlink to MBCC website). You DON’T drop your HAND-CARRY luggage here.
2. Security X-ray Screening: The queue here can be very long. You’ll need your passport AND SetSail pass printouts.
[TIP] Food-wise, it’s ok to bring onboard mineral water bottles, sealed snacks and up to 2 bottles of wine. Other alcoholic beverages, including beer will be confiscated and not returned.
3. Check-In: Depending which deck you are staying at, you’ll be directed to either level 2 or level 1 check-in counters. There are about 75 check-in counter to process everyone in total, so it should be quite fast. At the check-in counter, you’ll need your:
b. SetSail passes.
c. Credit Card that was linked to the Onboard Expense Account
Doing online check beforehand would save you time here. They’ll confiscate your SetSail Passes and print you your SeaPass cards in exchange. They’ll also take your photo to link you to your SeaPass. Finally, they will give you a paper card/ticket (one for each cabin) with a Group Boarding Number. Thereafter, passengers wait at the seats in front of the check-in counters, for their Group Boarding Number to be called. Toilets are available at the extreme sides of the waiting hall on level 2, where we were at (for Deck 9 passengers). There are water coolers and even a free lemonade drink dispenser.
[TIP] Register your credit card during Online Check-in as the Onboard Expense Account. This will save you the hassle of (a) doing it at the check-in counter and (b) joining the long queue to settle the account in cash at the end of the cruise.
4. Clearing Immigration - immigration counters are ready at 12pm (apparently they’re still processing people departing from the previous cruise). There’s another queue here, but with 18 manual counters and 10 automated clearance system (for Singaporeans), the process was quite fast.
5. Wristbanding of children - After immigration clearance, and just before we step onto the gangway, an RCCL female crewmember standing by a small make-shift table, will be trying her best to attract your attention, yelling that families with kids between 2-11 years old to stop and queue one side at her booth, while other passengers were free to go to their rooms. This baffled many families as families usually get priority in boarding but it wasn’t in this case. It turned out that she had to put a wristband onto all children stating their mustering station so they can be reunited with their families in case of an emergency or they got lost onboard. This is mighty confusing in terms of process, as no one would be expecting another queue between immigration and the ship. Moreover, the kids could have been getting cranky from all this queueing and waiting. (SUGGESTION TO RCCL: Give out the wristbands at the same time the SeaPass cards were issued).
6. Passport Collection: after you board the ship and exit the gangway, the crew will collect your passport. This allows them to expedite immigration clearance at the various Port-of-calls and clear everyone’s passports in one go. You will therefore just need your SeaPass to alight and board at these ports. They will return you your passport at the end of the cruise trip.
In all, we reached the Marina Bay Cruise Centre at 11:15am, about 45min ahead of our assigned check-in timing (12pm), and managed to board the ship at 12:15pm (i.e. 1 hour after drop-off).
However, on asking the crew, we found out that the cabin would only be ready at 1:30pm. As such, we immediately wanted to carry our hand-carry luggage to the usual buffet lunch venue at Windjammer. But even before we reached the elevators, we were unsurprisingly given a hard sell to the separately-payable specialty restaurants (immediately after the passport-handover counter), which we forced our way to bypass. Surprisingly though, at the gangway level lift lobby, we were directed not to Windjammer but to a lunch buffet at The Grande restaurant at Deck 3. Apparently, early passengers will have their lunch buffet there, but those who board later will still have it at the Windjammer. (SUGGESTION TO RCCL: Put info on lunch venue on RCCL website or pre-cruise instruction documents at least)
[TIP] Check-in luggage can arrive anytime from 1pm to 10pm, according to previous passengers’ experiences. So you should pack enough clothes to last you until late evening as necessary.
[TIP] Things you can do while waiting for room to be ready:
1. Eat lunch (Windjammer is most congested between 12pm and 1:30pm. It will become much less congested after 1:30pm cos people would be going to their bunks to drop off bags)
2. Connect to the ship’s free wifi intranet ("royal-wifi") and start booking your activities/ shows. Register your device by entering your name as it appears on your SetSail pass or SeaPass card, and a few other info
3. Register children with Adventure Ocean (you can register early during its Open House from 1pm to 4pm to skip the queue, although the official registration timing is 5:30pm to 9pm)
4. Avoid Guest Services cos long queue on Day 1 (for passengers dealing with wrong rooms, malfunctioning room keys, etc.)
5. Swim (the pools will be empty as most passengers’ swimsuits are in their luggage)
[TIP] The ship moves off at 6pm. You can view the sailaway from the crowded pool decks, your private balcony, or even the helipad (enter from staircase at Deck 4 towards front of ship)
At 4:45pm, there will be an announcement for everyone to gather for a mandatory muster drill briefing. It’s not held outdoor at the lifeboat deck like cruise companies used to. Instead, the muster drill briefing is held indoor at places such as the Two70 hall, or Royal Theatre, depending on your assigned muster station (indicated on your SeaPass card or behind your cabin door). The briefing itself commences at 5pm and lasts about 10min.
[-] One thing I was pleasantly surprised by was that the crew actually rehearsed the launching of life boats while the ship was at Penang port. From my cabin balcony on the starboard (right) side, I could see them lowering at least 5 life-boats into the water, plus a guide boat. This gives me good assurance that the crew know what they need to do should disaster strikes.
Choice of Cabin
We stayed in 2 adjoining Superior Ocean View Staterooms with Balcony (Cabin number 9696 and 9694). We were impressed with the spaciousness, décor, quality of furnishings and room cleanliness. The rooms gave us the sense of being in a hotel room, rather than the traditional cruise ship bunk. The ship, being generally new (she was commissioned in 2016), looked spic and span.
[TIP] The lifts/elevators are at the 1/3 and 2/3 point of the ship. So even though our cabin (9696 and 9694) were not at the extreme front (bow) or back (stern), we had to walk a good 50m to get to one. So choose your cabin wisely.
[TIP] There are outdoor smoking sheds on Deck 5 alongside the lifeboats. These are UNMARKED in any of the deck plans in the marketing brochures. To avoid smoke wafting into your balcony, avoid (on the starboard side) X676 to X698. Deck 6 and 7 would likely get it quite bad, though Deck 8 and above should be OK.
[-] Although we had indicated during booking with the travel agent that we had wanted the 2 cabins to be physically connected, the 2 face-to-face passageway doors inside the cabins were not yet opened by the time we reached the room after the public announcement was made that the cabins were “ready”. This resulted in my eldery mum (who was staying in the other room), to be accidentally locked out when she came over to our room to talk to, but her SeaPass card was left in her room’s card slot, and her cabin door slammed shut behind her. The room attendant explained that this was because opening the passageway doors required a special key from the supervisor, who would only be available after 3:30pm when “duty personnel are on duty”. Fortunately, he was at least able to open the balcony partition using a key that he held, allowing us to quickly cross-sort our luggage (SUGGESTION to RCCL: Design the passageway doors so that they can be opened using the same key as the balcony partition. Else, open the passageway doors asap after passengers start boarding, if requested)
[TIP] Until the adjoining room doors are opened, room occupants should swap one of their Seapass card with the other room’s occupants, so that they don’t get accidentally locked out of their own room.
[+] There were 20 conventional hangers per room. We used them hang wet laundry in the balcony
[-] There wasn’t enough space to place and open up a full-size 30-inch luggage bag for passengers (to live out from, assuming they rather not use the drawers if they’re on a short cruise). The wardrobe was just 1 inch short of allowing me to place my standard 30-inch luggage and it was a pity it couldn’t fit in. I then tried using the cabinet top (where the tea-and-kettle tray is placed), but the bolted-on lamp blocked the way. (SUGGESTION to RCCL: Design the wardrobe to be 1- 2 inches wider)
[TIP] Store your empty luggage bags under the bed to get them out the way.
[+] The Royal King-size beds were not as hard as some previous passengers had described. The room attendant converted our sofa-bed into a good-size double bed, and overlaid it with bedsheets and duvet materials. This did felt harder, but easily mitigated by asking for more duvet and pillows to compensate.
[-] The 4 pillows on the Royal Kind bed were on the flat side. Of the 2 pillows that each person were allocated, one was thin, the other was thick.
[-] The comforter was unnecessarily thick, given that the room was climate-controlled.
[TIP] There’re extra pillows and sheets in the cabinet hanging over the main Royal King bed.
The same room attendant will clean your cabin through the trip. He will introduce himself to you with their name-card and extension number to contact them 24/7. The room will be cleaned twice a day, once after breakfast and once before you return to the room at night.
[TIP] If you do not wish to be disturbed, just affix the magnetic Do-Not-Disturb sign to the cabin door facing the corridor.
[+] The bathrooms are small but well laid-out with plenty of rack space and 4 hooks on the toilet door.
[+] The shower is an enclosed unit with a glass door, so no cold sticky wet curtains.
[+] The toilet door has a movement-retardant hinge to prevent slamming and locks it in place no matter how ajar it is.
[+] There is a night light inside the toilet that is permanently switched on. This removes the need to leave the bright main toilet light on overnight. A small but great innovation.
[+] There are grab bars inside the shower unit, and the toilet and shower unit floor is laid with elegant anti-slip tiles.
[-] While there was an electrical outlet in the bathroom (great for drying hair without disturbing other cabin-mates), it was black and so well-hidden above the top rack that I suspect many passengers didn’t know it’s there! (SUGGESTION TO RCCL: Make the electrical outlet more prominent on future ships, possibly placing it against the far wall away from the wash-basin)
[-] The hand-basin was very shallow and could only hold an inch of water. (SUGGESTION TO RCCL: Build deeper basins with curved bases for future ships. There’s definitely space below the current basin design to accommodate this)
[-] In a change from earlier Quantum-class ships, toiletries no longer come in individual bottles, which is commendable from an environmental point of view. Non-suite cabins now come with two bars of soap and a fixed shampoo(?) dispenser in the shower. There are no conditioner, body lotion, shower cap, or bathrobes, though I understand you can request for conditioner and body lotion from the room attendant at no extra charge
[-] The toilet bowl operates like those on an aircraft – using a vacuum. This makes it VERY LOUD. You will easily disturb your sleeping cabin-mates, and even other cabins, if you flush it at night.
[-] Frustratingly, the flush button on the wall is placed low such that it is blocked whenever the toilet bowl lid is raised. This means we had to lower the lid whenever we flush the toilet. It makes more sense for the design to be similar to those in the common area toilets (e.g. near the lift lobbies) where the flush button is above the lid. (SUGGESTION TO RCCL: Place the flush button ABOVE the lid for future ships)
The website FAQ stated that wall sockets offer both North American standard 110 volts/ 60 hertz AC and standard European 220/230 volts 50 hertz AC outlets (see photo):
1. Dressing table: 2 x power socket + 2 x USB charging point
2. Bedside table: Pack a travel adapter for US or EU plugs for charging non-USB devices.
3. Toilet: 1 x power socket
[+] There’s a plug-in hair-dryer inside the top cabinet drawer.
[+] The mini-fridge has a childproof lock.
[-] No lights in balcony (SUGGESTION TO RCCL: Consider installing balcony lights for future ships?)
[TIP] All power in the room are shut down when the SeaPass cards are removed from the slot by the door. Worth remembering if you are charging smartphones in the room.
[TIP] To switch on/off bedside lamps, use the little black circular rocker button below the lamp itself, not the usual big white square buttons.
[-] There were only tea-making amenities (electric kettle + tea bags + sugar + UHT milk capsules only) in the cabins, but no coffee! Although coffee was complementary with room service, sachets in the room would have been easier (SUGGESTION TO RCCL: Place 3-in-1 coffee sachets in the rooms)
[-] Unlike most hotels, there was no complimentary drinking water in your room, although the tap water was supposed to be potable. There were 2 bottles of Evian mineral water in the mini-fridge but they were going for USD$18 for 4 x 1-litre bottles! Other mini-fridge item prices:
Evian 1-litre bottle: 4 bottles = USD$18, 8 bottles = USD$32, 12 bottles = USD$39
Evian 500ml bottle: 4 bottles = USD$14, 8 bottles = USD$26, 12 bottles = USD$32
San Pellegrino 250ml bottle: 4 bottles = USD$10, 8 bottles = USD$18, 12 bottles = USD$25
Soft drinks: 6 can = USD$12, 12 cans = USD$22, 24 cans = USD$40
(Coca-cola, Diet Coke, Sprite, Sprite Zero, Ginger Ale, Fanta Orange, Club Soda, Tonic Water)
Energy drinks: 4 pack = USD$14, 8 pack = USD$26, 12 pack = USD$
(Red Bull, Sugar free Red Bull, Red Bull Yellow/Blue/Red Edition, Powerade, Vitamin Water)
Juice: 4 bottles = USD$14, 8 bottles = USD$26, 12 bottles = USD$36
(Minute Maid Applce/ Orange/ Red Grapefruit Juice)
[TIP] The dressing table can be pulled out to become a small dining table for someone at the sofa. Great for eating room service food.
[+] The TV is a big 42-inch Samsung HG40NC691 RFXZA.
[+] Kudos to RCCL for responding positively to previous feedback that there were very limited TV channels. Now, there are 28 channels comprising:
1. 7 x Royal Caribbean-related channels (Morning Show by Ship Activity Manager and Cruise Director, Cruise Compass, Shore Excursions, Next Cruise, etc.)
2. 3 x Cartoon channels (Dreamworks, Nickelodeon)
3. 2 x English Movie channels (Primetime 1 and 2)
4. 2 x Sports channels (ESPN Pac Rim, SKYSPORTS NEWS)
5. 5 x News channels (Sky News, SKY BUSINESS, CNN, Headline News, NHK World, )
6. 2 x Music channels (MTV China, Music Videos)
7. International language channels (TVB Jade, Arirang, Lotus Macau)
[+] The interactive TV also allows you to order room service, check the Cruise Compass, etc.
[-] TV audio was very soft and flat, lacking bass. In contrast, the swimming pool movie theatre was outdoor, but its audio was much clearer and louder. (SUGGESTION TO RCCL: Add a sound bar below the TV for future ships)
[-] While there were many TV channels, including quite a few news and sport channels, there were not many adult-oriented channels such as HBO, Discovery, etc. Its cartoon offerings were strong, mainly due to its Dreamworks affiliation.
[-] Movies-on-demand are chargeable at $11.99 for each movie. Be careful as adult video clips are also available via the same interactive menu (USD$6.99 for 15 min). Parental controls can be set to prevent video access by minors.
[TIP] One end of the TV can be pulled out from the wall such that it swivels 45 degrees towards the sofa couch.
Other Room Tips
[TIP] There is no pen or paper in the room. Bring along a highlighter to note activities you’re interested in on the daily Cruise Compass.
Food and Dining
[-] SUGGESTION TO RCCL: Place the restaurant menus in the online Cruise Planner, so that passengers can better plan where to have their meals.
Overview of opening times of free restaurants (see attached photo for tabularised form)
1. Grande (Deck 3): 8am to 9:30am (6:30am on port days), 11:30am to 1pm (closed on port days)(11:45am to 4pm on Embarkation Day), 5:30 pm or 8pm
2. Chic (Deck 3): 5:30 pm or 8pm
3. Silk (Deck 4): 5:30 pm to 9:30 pm
4. American Icon Grill (Deck 4): 5:30 pm to 9:30 pm
5. Café Promenade (Deck 4): 24/7
6. Sorrento’s Pizza (Deck 4): 11:30am (sometimes 11 am) right through to 3am
7. The Cafe @ Two70 (Deck 5): 8 am to 10:30 am (6am to 10am on port days), 11:30am to 5:30 pm (Noon to 5:30pm on port days)(Noon to 4pm on Embarkation Day)
8. Windjammer (Deck 14): 7am to 10:30 am (6:30am on port days), 11:30 am to 3pm, 5:30pm to 9pm (6pm to 9pm on port days)
9. Solarium Bistro (Deck 14): 7:30 am to 10am (6am on port days), 11:30am to 2pm (11:30am to 2:30pm on port days)
10. (12:30pm to 3pm on Embarkation Day), 5:30pm to 9:30pm
11. SeaPlex Dog House (Deck 15): 11:30am to 9:30pm
12. Room service: 6am to 11am, 11am to 6am
Overview of opening times of specialty restaurants (see attached photo for table format)
a. Coastal Kitchen (Deck 14): 8am to 10am (7am to 9am on port days) (Star class, Sky classes and Pinnacle members only), Noon to 2pm (11:30am to 1:30pm) (Star class, Sky classes and Pinnacle members only), 5:30pm to 9:30pm (All Suites and Pinnacle members only)
b. Chops Grille (Deck 5): Noon to 1:30pm (12:30pm to 1:30pm on Embarkation Day and port days), 5:30pm to 9:30pm
c. Izumi (Deck 5): Noon to 1:30pm (Closed on Embarkation Day and port days), 5:30pm to 9:30pm
d. La Patisserie (Deck 4): 6am to 11pm (5:30pm to 11pm on Embarkation Day)
e. Michael’s Genuine Pub (Deck 4): 10am to 1am (11am to 1am on port days)
f. Kung Fu Panda Noodle Shop (Deck 14): 11:30am to 9:30pm (5:30pm to 9:30pm on port days)(1pm to 10pm on Embarkation Day)
g. Jamie’s Italian Tapas (Deck 5): Noon to 1:30pm (Closed on Embarkation Day and port days) 5:30pm to 9:30pm
h. Wonderland (Deck 5): 5:30pm to 9:30pm
i. Hot Pot at Solarium Bistro: 5:30pm to 9:30pm
j. Jamie’s Italian (Deck 5): Noon to 1:30pm (Closed on Embarkation Day and port days) 5:30pm to 9:30pm
k. Chef’s Table (Deck 5): 7:30pm
Silk (Deck 4), American Icon Grill (Deck 4), Chic (Deck 3) and Grande (Deck 3)
Since November 2016 (before the start of the ship's first Australian season), Ovation has abandoned the Dynamic Dining concept introduced originally for all Quantum Class ships in 2014 and replaced it with (a) My Time Dining, co-existing with (b) Dynamic Dining Classic (5:30pm or 8pm).
Under My Time Dining, you can reserve dinner seats anytime from 5:30pm, 5:45pm, 6pm … until 9:30pm (using the online Cruise Planner pre-trip or using the SeaPass tablet kiosks onboard). When your timing nears, you can go to either of the 2 no-extra-charge restaurants: Silk (Chinese-décor), American Icon Grill (USA Route 66 decor). There is no single Main Dining Room unlike other ships. There are no time limits to how long you can spend to have your meal. You don’t get to choose your table, table companions (although they usually allocate you a table that fits your family size), or waiter.
Under Dynamic Dining Classic, your dining venue will be at either Chic (modern decor) or Grande (formal decor). You’ll have either the early 5:30pm (door closes at 6pm) or late 8pm seating. Everything else, in terms of menu, dining service, etc is the same.
[-] Since these 2 venues seat about 450 people each, it is often not able to accommodate the 4,900 passengers, who don't always stick to their booked dining times. At the entrance of Silk and Chic restaurants, there are 2 queues each: (a) those with booking and (b) those without. Our experience (given our 5:45pm bookings) typically sees a 5min queue for those with booking, and easily 30min wait for those without. After you managed to get a table, you need to wait 5-10min for the waiter to come to you with the menu. He’ll disappear and after another 5-10min, if you manage to catch him, you can place your order (for the appetizer and mains). Together with the wait for the food itself (excluding the queue to enter the restaurant), this was ANOTHER 45min. The dessert menu comes after mains are finished. (SUGGESTION TO RCCL: Like how some land-based restaurants do it to reduce waiting time, allow queueing customers to peruse the menu while waiting to enter the restaurant via a clipboard menu so that they are ready to order the moment they are seated at their tables. Or at least place the menu on the table even before the diners arrive at their table. Much time was also taken to serve water/drinks before diners are allowed to order, when self-service water jugs made more sense. I think cruise passengers who are not having their meals in the specialty restaurants are prepared to make trade-offs doing a bit of self-service vs freeing up time for the waiters to get their food).
[TIP] The 4 restaurants share the same menu although the menu changes daily. Everyday, there are 2 columns on the menu: Asian dishes (left) and Western dishes (right). You can order AS MANY DISHES AS YOU WANT ala-carte buffet style from both columns. The Asian dishes are more like Fusion dishes or what you get in an Asian restaurant in an American strip mall (i.e. Thai Green Curry, Mee Goreng, and Kung Pao chicken that are more sweet than spicy). The rice portions are shot-glass-size small. Overall, the Asian dishes taste ok, but are not as good as those on Star Cruise, possibly because RCCL doesn’t hire authentic Chinese/Asian chefs? The Western dishes were more authentic, and offer a broad range of options such as Lemon-Thyme Roast Chicken, Grilled Baby Ribs, Tenderloin, Garlic Tiger Shrimp, etc. The dessert options were great, e.g. Lemongrass Crème Brulee, Passion Fruit Mousse, Bittersweet Chocolate Souffle. Ice-cream (they’ll always give you 3 scoops of chocolate, strawberry and/or vanilla, unless you specifically tell them to ONLY give you 1 scoop if you’re too full to eat so much dessert). (SUGGESTION TO RCCL: Further improve the recipes for the Asian dishes to be more authentic. Make it properly spicy if need be.)
[TIP] There is also a Kids’ Menu that DOESN’T change daily (you’ve got to request for the Kids Menu cos it’s strangely not offered by default). It offers options such as Chicken Noodle Soup for starters, and Sphaghetti for mains, etc. The portions for the Kids Menu mains are HUGE, big enough to feed 2 kids. (SUGGESTION TO RCCL: Warn diners that the mains are HUGE, or perhaps reduce the KID’S portion size, as otherwise there’ll be much food wastage).
Windjammer (Deck 14):
Before entering the Windjammer, a jovial crew member will usher you into a mandatory hand-washing area. The main buffet restaurant is huge, but so is the crowd, especially lunch on Embarkation Day (12:30pm to 1:30pm) and at daily breakfast period (8:30am to 9:30am). You can spend much time circling the room trying to find a table. The tables closest to the food are usually occupied, and you are more likely to find empty tables at the rear of the ship.
[TIP] Ask the waiters for help to get tables, or ask for room service, or simply get your food from the buffet lines and request for a plastic cover to cover your plate and bring it back to your room to consume.
The variety of food was huge with a number of themed stations (Bakery, Pasta, Sandwiches, Salads, Indian, Noodles, Chinese, Desserts), rather than one large central buffet line. The breakfast buffet included Continental and American food such as English sausages, bacon, pancakes, waffles, cereals, fruit, yoghurt, cold cuts and ham. Passengers can also order made-to-order omelettes, eggs Benedict and egg dishes. There were also Asian dishes such as congee/porridge with salted vegetables. The lunch buffet saw the theme stations (Pasta, Asian, Sandwiches, Noodles) serving their intended range of dishes. The dinner buffet was almost the same as the lunch buffet. Interestingly, some of the Windjammer dishes were better than those served in the 4 free restaurants, e.g. the Windjammer pork chop was softer in texture while the Asian dishes were also less sweet.
[TIP] Outside the main meal times, you can still get free teas, coffee, syrup juices and water from the Windjammer. There is also Coke Freestyle machines (if you sign up for the Soda package).
[-] The Nestle drinks dispenser (4 black handles and nozzles. See attached photo) in Windjammer was confusing to use. It was only after much fiddling and checking with serving crew did I found out that the lever had 2 pressure levels – half-pull for pure water, but full pull to dispense the Nestle drink itself (SUGGESTION TO RCCL: Have wall instructions indicating how to use the Nestle dispenser correctly.) The drink itself tends to be TOO THICKLY SWEET. (SUGGESTION TO RCCL: Tone down and calibrate the syrup-to-water ratio.)
[-] The Coke Freestyle machines are still down when we were there, close to a year since the complaint was first raised by previous passengers. (SUGGESTION TO RCCL: Fix them.)
[-] People were often telling the Live Noodle Station chef the type of noodles they want (often in languages the female chef doesn’t understand), when they were supposed to choose the noodles themselves, and have them placed in their bowls when they pass it to her. (SUGGESTION TO RCCL: Place a sign in multiple languages stating the procedure).
[-] The queue at the Live Noodle station can get quite long. (SUGGESTION TO RCCL: The chef should have access to 2 or more scoop ladles/boiling pots to increase her productivity)
[-] There was limited variety in the range of soup base at the Live Noodle Station, mainly restricted to beef and chicken, which got tired after a few days. (SUGGESTION TO RCCL: The station can consider offering a soup bases such as fish bee hoon soup, curry, Mee Siam, Mee Reebus, Laksa, Lor Mee, pretty common and easily found soup bases in Singapore.)
[-] The female chef at the Live Noodle station was not tall, but the work surface was rather tall for her, made worse by the tall boiling pot. I was worried that she would burn her arms whenever she cooked the noodles. (SUGGESTION to RCCL: Provide a stool for her.)
Solarium Bistro (Deck 14):
In contrast to the congested Windjammer, this was a much smaller restaurant at the front of the ship which was also open for breakfast, lunch and dinner (Hotpot only – requires extra charge), although opening hours were shorter for breakfast and lunch, and the hotpot dinner required reservations. It was a quieter and more intimate place to eat, offering a great view of the palm trees in the Adult Solarium. The range of food for breakfast and lunch was a (small) subset of that in the Windjammer, with focus on healthier foods (e.g. salads, fruits). Breakfast also saw eggs cooked to order and served to the table. Dinner offered ala-carte Grilled Salmon, Grilled Shrimp, Sirloin Steaks, Chicken Kebabs, and Lemon-Pepper Roasted Chicken. Some items carried an extra charge: Maine Lobster (USD$29.95), Lamb Chops (USD$10), Chops Grille Filet Mignon (USD$16.95).
Coastal Kitchen (Deck 14):
Serving a California-Mediterranean menu, this restaurant is available exclusively to Junior Suite and above passengers AND their guests ONLY. Different ships and passengers seems to encounter different policies but it seems for breakfast and lunch, only passengers in Grand Suites and higher can dine there, whereas at dinner it's open to passengers staying in Junior Suites and higher. The menu is health-focused.
If it’s just a snack you fancy, there were many options around the ship.
Sorrento's (Deck 4):
Side by side with the Café Promenade along the Royal Esplanade, Sorrento’s offers at least 4 different pizzas (fixed flavours are pepperoni and cheese. Others that vary daily are chicken, chilli con carne, Pimento, chicken and curry etc. While stocks last!). You can also order your own custom pizzas (including gluten-free). They did run out of chilli flakes at one point though. Great place to catch supper after a late night show given that it closes at 3am.
[TIP] There is also a Coke Free-style machine inside. But it didn’t seem to be working. (SUGGESTION TO RCCL: Fix it.)
Cafe Promenade (Deck 4):
Next to Sorrento’s along the Royal Esplanade, there are no seating inside the café, but it offers a couple of bistro-style tables for people-watching. The only place that is 24/7, the cafe offers a range of free snacks including Mini Mud Cake, Pavlova, Pork Sandwich, Egg Dilly, Cinnamon Cookies, and Chocolate Chip Cookies. There’s a free hot beverage-making station inside the café for coffee and tea.
[TIP] Hot drinks can be brought out of the café to places like the Music Hall or bars to be enjoyed in a different setting (e.g. while watching a concert), without the need to purchase a drink over there. The Cafe Promenade has paper cups with cup holders.
[-] Cafe Promenade – It was not obvious where the table-embedded rubbish bin was to dump sugar/tea sachet packaging. Some passengers end up just leaving the packaging on the work surfaces. (SUGGESTION: have a more prominent rubbish bin, or have some signage to point out where the hidden bin is)
The Cafe @ Two70 (Deck 5):
Offered a wider range of snack food compared to the Café Promenade, including soups, made-to-order salads, wraps, sandwiches and paninis. Like Café Promenade, it also has a tea, coffee-making station, as well as cold fruit syrup. There is no seating inside the café, but you can take your food into the Two70 amphi-theatre to enjoy.
SeaPlex Dog House (Deck 15):
Located in a carnival hotdog van, it offers German Bratwursts as well as classic porck/chicken hot dogs. The sausages are big and filling, offering a great snack while queueing for Bumper Cars or Roller Skating.
[TIP] There is a working Coke Freestyle machine at the SeaPlex Dog House. Seems to be the only working machine on the whole ship!
Room service is available 24 hours and can be ordered by phone, interactive TV, or for breakfast, by filling out a form and placing it outside the cabin door by 3 am. Most of it is complimentary, such as continental breakfast (6am to 11am), soups, salads, wraps, desserts (cheesecakes, cookies) and the children's menu (e.g. chicken fingers, pizza, milk, chocolate milk). Other items carry an extra charge, including USD$3 per item for eggs, pancakes or tortilla at breakfast, and USD$4.95 for items from Michael's Genuine Pub (available 11 am to 6 pm), such as chicken wings, bangers and mash, Scotch egg with curry mayonnaise, Angus Beef Burger, Grilled Salmon. A late-night delivery fee of US$4.95 is imposed for orders between 11 pm. and 6 am.
[TIP] Room service only starts at 5pm on Embarkation Day, after Muster Drill. So you cannot order room service for lunch. It is not available on Disembarkation Day.
The specialty restaurants incur in charges, but offer a more intimate ambience, personal service than the free restaurants. Typical meals last 2 hours for you to enjoy the full experience. Similarly, reservations are critical if you do not want to find yourself rejected at that door, or stuck with very early or late slots. Booking can be made before the cruise, onboard at guest services (long queue), at the restaurants or via the Royal IQ.
My family didn’t try any of the fee restaurants as we felt that the free restaurants already offer good food that varied sufficiently over a 5-day cruise. Nonetheless, their menus are provided below (since the info is not available on the RCCL website):
Chef's Table (Deck 5):
US$95 per adult. A private experience for 12 to 16 people (if there aren't enough reservations to fill the table, the dinner could be cancelled) offers a 6-course 3-hour, upgraded steakhouse menu and wine tasting. A sommelier pairs every dish with a matching wine. A welcome cocktail is served before dinner. Typical menu:
1. Amuse-Bouche - Crispy Crab Cone with avocado, wasabi and caviar. Paired with Michael Rede, Sancerre Les Tuileres, Sauvihnon Blanc, Loire, France
2. Cauliflower Soup - Pancetta and Mascarpone Cheese, Sage Croutons. Paired with Mer Soleil, Chardonnay Reserva, Barrel Fermented, Santa Lucia Highlands, California.
3. Artichoke salad – Fennel, Endive, Burrata Cheese. Paired with Willaim Fevre, Chablis ler Cru, Chardonnay, Burgundy, France
4. Tagliatelle - Truffle Butter and Chives. Paired with Oberon, Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, California.
5. New York strip loin - Polenta and Portobello mushrooms
6. Olive oil cake - Ricotta and Lemoncello liqueur. Paired with Chocolate Martini.
Chops Grille (Deck 5):
USD$39 per adult. Traditional Morten’s-style restaurant with dark furnishings and low lighting. Focused on meat and lobsters. Selected premium item incur extra charges. Vegetarian options are limited, aside from soup and salads. Menu:
1. Signature Appetizers –
a. Colossal Shrimp Cocktail. Chipotle, Cucumber, Tomato and Lime.
b. Dungeness Crab and Shrimp Cake. Rémoulade sauce
c. Pan-Roasted Jumbo Scallops**. Bacon, Onion, Apple and Hot Mustard Jus
d. Charred Beef Carpaccio**. Rare Charred Beef, Parmesan Cheese, Shaved Asparagus and Truffle Mustard Dressing
e. Grilled Black Pepper Bacon. Slow-cooked Berkshire Pork and Sweet and Spicy Glaze
2. Meats & Poultry
a. "Petite" Filet Mignon 6 Oz.
b. "Petite" New York Strip Steak 6 Oz.
c. Grilled Filet Mignon 9 Oz.
d. Grilled New York Strip Steak 12 Oz.
e. Slow-Braised Short Rib of Beef. Bordelaise Sauce
f. Veal Chop Parmesan. Slow Broiled, Caramelized Shallots and Parmesan Herb Butter
g. Roasted Organic Chicken. Red Onion Jam, Croissant Stuffing and Truffled Chicken Jus
a. Grilled Branzino
b. Spicy Jumbo Shrimp. Creamy Lemon, Basil, Pepper, Potato and Wine Garlic Butter Sauce
c. Everything Crusted Tuna**. Sesame, Bok Choy, Peanut and Asian Aromatic Sauce
4. SOMETHING SPECIAL
a. Dry-Aged New York Strip Steak 16 Oz. (+USD$18 more)
b. Dry-Aged Porterhouse Steak 20 Oz. (+USD$19 more)
c. Roasted Maine Lobster. Drawn Butter and Fresh Lemon (+USD$21 more)
a. Chocolate Mud Pie
b. Soft-Center Chocolate
c. Red Velvet Cake
d. Huckleberry Cheesecake
f. Assorted ice cream (coconut cranberry, oatmeal, chocolate chip, etc.)
Izumi (Deck 5):
Ala carte pricing. A Japanese restaurant centred around a sushi bar counter. Menu:
1. Starters, e.g. gyoza, shrimp spring roll, tempura (USD$7 to USD$9)
2. Salads, e.g. Wakame, Seafood Citrus, Tataki (USD$6 to USD$8)
3. Soups and noodles, e.g. Ramen, Udon (USD$6 to USD$9)
4. Nigiri/ Sashimi (USD$4 for 2 pcs, USD$9 for 5 pcs)
5. Signature Rolls, e.g. champagne lobster in yuzu wrap, Snow Crab California (USD$9 – USD$12)
6. Chef’s Signature Rolls, e.g. Truffle Creamy Lobster (USD$13 to USD$15)
7. Sushi/ Sashimi Combos (USD$11 to USD$18)
8. Desserts, e.g. sesame balls, tea ice cream, mochi ice cream (USD$3 to USD$5)
Wonderland (Deck 5):
US$49 per pax. Décor inspired by Alice in Wonderland, there is a throne-style chair and real candles at every table. Menu:
1. Sun – Vegetables reinvented
a. Baby Vegetables in the Garden (Soil and pebbles)
b. Reconstructed Caprese (Liquid Olive, ricotta powder, basil)
c. Tomato Water (pepper spherification, bread foam)
2. Ice – Chilled appetizers
a. Oceanic Citrus (Spicy tuna, flora yuze granite)
b. Crispy Crab Cones (Cilantro, avocado mousse, ohba leaf)
c. Sashimi of Red and White Tuna (Charred scallion)
3. Fire – hot appetizers
a. Buffalo Eggs (Smoked, blue cheese and hot sauce)
b. Shrimp Kataifi (Crsphy crumn, scotch bonnet)
c. Wonton Soup (Jelly, noodles)
4. Sea - Seafood
a. Liquid Lobster (Bone marrow, caviar)
b. Halibut Cooked in Clear Paper (Mushrooms, potato, bacon)
c. Branzino in Crispy Bread (Tamarind spice emulsion)
5. Earth - Meats
a. Terrior Beef (River stone potatoes, borderlaise sauce)
b. Berkshire Pork Belly (Apples, crackling)
c. Slow Roasted Chicken (Crispy skin, potato puree)
Jamie's Italian by Jamie Oliver (Deck 5):
USD$25 for lunch, USD$30 for dinner:
a. Red Pepper Soup
b. Giant Green Olives
c. Crispy Squid
d. Mushroom Fritti, etc.
2. Mains and Pasta
a. Jamie’s Italian Burger
b. Penne Carbonara
c. Sausage Spaghetti
d. Venetian Fish Stew
e. Prawn Linguine
f. Truffle Tagliatelle
g. Chicken Cacciatore
h. Lamb Chops Scottadita
i. Super Food Salad
j. Turbo Penne Arrabbiata
k. Baked Lasagne, etc.
3. Anti Planks
a. Cured Meat Plank
b. Vegetable Plank
In general, at the Jamie’s Italian, Izumi, Chops Grill and Chef’s Table:
a. Gluten-free, lactose-free, and vegetarian options are available.
b. Kids 5 and under eat for free. Kids 6-12 years old eat for less.
c. Dress code is mostly smart casual, i.e. skirts or pants (with no holes, rips or tears) and a sweater or blouse are appropriate for women. Pants (with no holes, rips or tears) and a sports shirt (must have sleeves) or sweater are appropriate for men. Swimsuits, robes, bare feet, tank tops, baseball caps and pool wear are not allowed in the main restaurants or specialty restaurants at any time. Chef’s Table has a formal dress code, i.e. cocktail dresses, gowns or dressy pantsuits for women; jackets for men.
There are pre-bookable dining packages (50% allocated pre-trip online, 50% allocated to bookings made on the ship), available for 3 to 4 dinners, which save up to 40% of the cost of booking fee restaurants separately. Details:
1. USD$85 per adult (3-night), USD$100 per adult (4-night)
2. For lunch or dinner
3. Dress code – smart casual
4. Select your dining party and preferred dining time and they will make a courtesy dinner reservation for you in a pre-selected restaurant. On Day 1, you will receive your reservation confirmation in your stateroom. If you want to amend or add additional dinner reservations, visit Guest Services or the specialty restaurant.
5. Kids ages 6-12 dine for only $10. Ages 5 and under eat free. Staff can add your kids to your existing reservation at kid's prices once onboard. There’s a Kids’ Menu.
6. First courtesy dinner reservation will be made for Day 1 or Day 2
7. Make additional reservations on your first day onboard to guarantee preferred dining time and restaurants
8. For restaurants with a la carte pricing, package includes a $30 credit towards the food portion of your bill
9. There is a US$10 cancellation fee for reservations cancelled within 24 hours of the reservation date and for no-show guests. The fee increases to US$25 for the Chef's Table.
10. Apparently, there is a $10 surcharge if you want to dine at a specific fee restaurant again a second time (even though you’re utilising the already purchased dining plan package).
Dreamworks Character Breakfast:
(1hr) USD$10 per adult. Free for kids.
[TIP] Confirm the timing of the show with the crew/ Guest Services: it may be different between the website (8:30am) and the Cruise Compass (8am).
[TIP] Your allocated table may not necessarily be near the performing area and not all the characters will appear. They sing and dance for about 7 to 10 min only.
[TIP] To save the money, skip the breakfast and try to catch the characters when they appear for their frequent meet-and-greet sessions when they appear at the Via (the blue-décor corridor between the Royal Esplanade and Jamie’s Italian restaurant), Sundial (Optician shop), or Royal Esplanade (see Cruise Compass for schedule). It’s free and you can take photos of your kids with the characters too.
Kung Fu Panda Noodle Shop (Deck 14):
A la carte pricing. Chinese whole-in-wall fast-food concept next to the main outdoor pool that replaced the Johnny Rockets found on most other Royal Caribbean ships. Menu:
1. Dim Sum (USD$4 for 4 pc)
a. Vegetarian Spring Rolls
b. BBQ Pork Bao
c. Pork Shao Mai
d. Shrimp Har Gao
2. Noodles (USD$5 per bowl)
a. Cantonese Wanton Noodles
b. Curry Beef Glass Noodles
c. Taiwanese Spicy Beef Noodles
d. Banmian Noodles with Minced Beef and Dried Bean Curd
3. Dessert (USD$2)
a. Sesame Balls
b. Custard Tart
c. White Fungus Soup
d. Guiling Gao (Chinese herbal jelly)
4. Drinks (USD$5)
a. Fresh Orange Juice
b. Cold Milk Tea
La Patisserie (Deck 4):
A la carte pricing. Confectionery offering macaroons (US$1.75 each), specialty cakes (e.g. croissants or Danish pastry) (US$1.95 each), and Starbucks coffee.
Offering various vibes, most bars are located on Deck 4 and 5, sprinkled around the Royal Esplanade “shopping street”.
Michael's Genuine Pub (Deck 4):
A la carte pricing: With dark wood, brass fittings cosy booths, guitar playing (at night) and a sports channel, the place exudes typical British bar ambience. Menu:
a. Marinated Olives, Pickled Vegetables, Falafel, Devilled Eggs, Chicken Liver Crostini (USD$3 each)
b. Crispy Pig Ear, Scotch Egg Curry, Tomato-bread soup, Thick Cut Potato Chips, Polenta Fries, Chile Chicken Wings, Slow Roasted Pork Sliders (USD$5 each)
2. Sweets (USD$4 each)
a. Peanut butter pie-in-a-jar, Sticky Toffee Pudding, Panna Cotta Marinated Berries, Vanilla Whipped Cream
3. Plates (USD$12.50 each)
a. Venison & Onion Pie, Fish & Chiips, Grilled Salmon, Pub Burger, Baner& Mash, Roast Beef
4. Craft Beers (USD$6 to USD$16 each)
5. Spirit Flights (USD$13 each)
6. House Cocktails (USD$11 to USD$13)
Schooner Bar (Deck 5)
During the day, it mainly hosted quizzes (“Flags of the World”, Sudoku Challenge, ) and craft sessions (napkin folding, rose-making using ribbon materials, etc.) using the baby grand piano as a big table. In the evening, it becomes a live piano performance venue. The mood was relaxed and welcoming.
[-] The flag trivia quiz held at the Schooner Bar was really too short with just one round that was over in 10min. The prize was also rather too low in value (RCCL memorabilia) to be meaningful or attract participants. (SUGGESTION to RCCL: Have a couple more rounds of the quiz. Have more attractive prizes such as onboard credit).
Boleros (Deck 4)
A Latin bar offering Salsa and jazz music. The décor is dark and has large comfortable couches. It is also the venue for the Chinese and English karaoke sessions (7pm to 8:30pm, sometimes 9pm), free Ladies Pamper Party (12pm, Day 2).
Vintages (Deck 5)
Quieter and more relax bar than the other bars probably because it’s located at the aft of the ship just outside the Two70, away from the main Royl Esplanade. Its dark wood decor and large chairs made it look like a great place to chill and relax with wine.
Besides the main bars mentioned above, there are various pool bars around the ship. These are operating throughout the day and evenings.
Music Hall (Deck 3 and 4):
A sprawling 2-storey entertainment venue comprising a stage, dance floor and bar at the lower level, and stage/dance-floor-overlooking tables and billiard tables at the upper level. There are line dancing, Zumba classes, and Bingo games during the day, and rock, retro performances by the tribute bands late into the night.
Promoted as one of the ship’s highlights, there are 2 robot arms that “dances” and produces up to 2 drinks simultaneously based on what you order using the side iPads. You can either order from a list or customise your own. If you ordered only 1 drink, only 1 arm is working, so the pics/videos won’t be as symmetrical or pretty as what you see in the advertisement. That said, now and then, the 2 arms (during off-peak?) will do a synchronization dance. Interesting and idiosyncratic to watch for a while, but not necessarily a place to keep returning to.
[TIP] There is a Bionic Electro Party with a DJ (7:45pm to 9pm) on Day 1.
There were prebookable drink packages that cover drinks at the various bars and restaurants, although we felt that there were generally not worth the cost:
1. Bottomless Galley Brunch (2hr) tour of galley + brunch. Can be included in the 3-4 or 5 Dining Package. USD$35 (Adult), USD$20 (Child)
2. Deluxe Package – USD$55 per adult per day (excludes drinks served inside Starbucks)
3. Refreshment Package - USD$26 per adult/child per day
4. Classic Soda Package - USD$8.55 per adult/child per day
5. Evian Bottled Water Package - USD$39 per adult. Can choose between 12 or 24 1-litre bottles. Delivered to room.
6. Café Select Coffee Card - $31 per adult/child per day. Entitles you to 15 specialty espresso coffee, macchiato, cappacino. 50% discount on individually purchased coffee.
[+] Almost all the key recreational activities were free for the Singapore-based Ovation of the Seas cruise, unlike cruises by the same ship when it leaves Chinese port-of-calls, where they charge for the iFly, FlowRider, and North Star for some reason.
[-] My understanding was that it should have been possible to sign liability waivers for the various onboard activities via (a) online before boarding, (b) via the Royal IQ, (c) at the interactive SeaPass-activated tablets located around the ship, (d) via the interactive TV in the cabin, or (e) at the stations themselves. This would have been helpful to cut down the processing time and queues at the stations. However in reality, we couldn’t do (a), (b), (c) or (d). For (a), clicking the “Sign Online Waiver” link merely brings passengers back to a generic page. For (b) and (c), the button/page simply doesn’t exist. For (d) when it came to clicking the green tick, none of the remote control buttons worked. (SUGGESTION TO RCCL: Allow proper online signing of waivers pre-embarkation, or via the Royal IQ app)
[TIP] In general, there were very limited slots for the iFly, FlowRider and NorthStar. So book early. Booking can be done via online or through the interactive SeaPass-activated tablets located around the ship (e.g. outside the American icon, Chic, Silk and The Grande).
[TIP] Take screenshots of your activity booking (i.e. My Calendar page when you’re logged in to the website). There had been cases where passengers apparently booked on the cruise page but on arrival at the station, the booking was somehow not registered. This could be because not everyone’s names (who may be in different cabins) was linked during the booking.
[TIP] On port days, the queues are much shorter (half the usual length) as people go for shore excursions. But for some reason, the operating hours were correspondingly shorter too, e.g. iFly, FlowRider don’t operate in the afternoons when the ship stopped at Penang. Fortunately, the NorthStar continue full-day operation on port day.
1. Opening hours:
a. Day 1: 1pm to 4pm, 5:30pm to 9pm
b. Day 2: 8am to 8:40pm
c. Day 3: 9am to 12pm, 5pm to 8pm
d. Day 4: 8am to 8:40pm
2. Age/ Height/ Safety restrictions:
a. Kids have to be 3 and over to take part. Kids between 3 and 12 need an accompanying adult.
b. Weight limit of 230 pounds (104 kg) for passengers under 6 feet (1.8 metres) tall, and 250 pounds (113 kg) for those over 6 feet
c. Clothing must be dry
d. Need to wear laced up shoes, or brings socks (so that they’ll lend you laced-up shoes)
e. No hard objects allowed, e.g. watches, rings, necklaces, so leave them in your cabin.
[TIP] First, you need to queue at the indoor reception counter inside a tiny office at Deck 15 rear starboard side, next to the Rock Wall, regardless whether you’ve made a prebooking or not. Don’t end up queueing in the WRONG queue (i.e. the queue at the Rock Wall). The purpose is to sign the waiver and get a wristband. The reception counter/entrance is confusingly the same one used for registering FlowRider guests.
[TIP] In batches of 7 to 8 pax, each group will first be ushered into a small room on Deck 15, next to the reception counter. There will be a 5min video + 5min briefing by your flight instructor. Thereafter, your flight instructor will bring you to the Kitting Counter and give you ear plugs, shoes, jumpsuit, helmet, and simplified eye goggles that can accommodate spectacles (they don’t have full face plastic masks like those shown in the posters and videos). Flight shoes are provided in case passengers forgot/ didn’t know about the laced-up shoe requirement. 5min to dress up. You can request for masking tape to put onto wedding rings.
[TIP] Once done, the flight instructor will lead you up a flight of stairs to Deck 16 for the actual flight. There’s only 1min of flight time, but it’s more than exhilarating enough. They’ll decrease the windspeed if your body weight is low, e.g. for young children.
[TIP] During the flight, there will be an official photographer taking pictures of you in the glass flight chamber. These can be purchased on your way out after de-kitting. The iFly photos (unfortunately, no video is available) goes for USD$20 for 1 pc (hardcopy), USD$30 for 2 pc, USD$40 for 4 pc, USD$50 for 5 pc (i.e. 50% discount if buy 4 or more). Softcopies are chargeable at USD$5 extra. (SUGGESTION TO RCCL: Introduce a video-recording service, which I’m sure will be welcomed by guests. Indicate the photography service pricing at the FRONT counter and website.)
[TIP] There might not need be a need to purchase the official photos in the first place as non-flying passengers can take their own photos and videos in the public area surrounding the glass flight chamber itself. Problem was that this area was an open area not sheltered from the rain. So when it started drizzling, my mum, who wasn’t flying, couldn’t exactly take our pictures eithers. (SUGGESTION to RCCL: Install an awning canopy (with lightning conductors) that shelters guests at both the iFly and FlowRider. This will increase number of guests that get to enjoy the 2 stations and greatly improve viewing experience of the spectators as well.)
1. Opening hours (depend on whether the ship is at sea or docked):
a. Day 1: 1pm to 3:30pm (Mixed), 6pm to 7pm (Boogie boarding), 7pm to 8pm (Stand-up surfing)
b. Day 2: 10am to 12pm (stand-up), 12:15pm to 3pm (Boogie), 3:15pm to 5pm (stand-up)
c. Day 3: 9am to 10am (standup), 10am to 11am (Boogie), 5pm to 7pm (Boogie), 7pm to 9pm (standup)
d. Day 4: 10am to 12pm (standup), 12:15pm to 3pm (Boogie), 3:15pm to 4:45pm (stand-up)
2. Age/ Height/ Safety restrictions:
a. 52 inches (1.32m) for boogie boarding and 58 inches (1.47m) for stand-up surfing
b. Teens under 18 need accompanying adult present.
c. No hard objects, including GOGGLES, necklaces or watches
[-] It is helpful to explain why certain onboard activities such as the FlowRider were oddly NOT available for pre-booking, given that RCCL highly recommended passengers to do so in the past. (SUGGESTION to RCCL: Provide explanation for change in policy in communication collaterals and website)
[TIP] First, you need to queue at the indoor reception counter inside a tiny office at Deck 15 rear starboard side, next to the Rock Wall. Turn up at least 30min before the ride opens, since prebooking is no longer available for the Singapore-based cruises. Don’t end up queueing in the WRONG queue (i.e. Rock Wall). The purpose is to sign the waiver and get a blue wristband. The reception counter/entrance is confusingly the same one used for registering iFly guests. The signage above the office entrance doesn’t help either as it stated (only) “RipCord by iFly”. The signpost outside entrance merely points to where the actual simulator is, not the reception counter itself. (SUGGESTION to RCCL: Improve the signage and directions.)
[TIP] After the reception counter, proceed at own time to the Deck 16 simulator itself. At the simulator, queue on the left of the surfing slope. I was 5th in queue at the simulator and with a ride time of about 1 - 2min per pax, I easily reached my turn in 10min. If you fall off too quickly, you can try again without re-queueing, but limit yourself to 1 fall. You can go for unlimited rounds, so long as you rejoin the queue. Go on a port day as the queue is much shorter
[TIP] Private/group lessons are available and can be pre-booked, but are pretty pricey:
a. Ultimate Flow Experience (1hr) for exclusive group private lesson. Minimum 1 guest. Maximum 8 guests. 24-hour notice is required to avoid a cancellation fee. SGD$783.84 per Adult or Child
b. FlowRider Private Wave Session (1hr) This is a full-venue buyout with instructor supervision only. Participant must know how to load themselves on to the FlowRider. Minimum 1 guest. Maximum 8 guests. SGD$489.90 per Adult or Child
c. FlowRider Surf Lesson (1hr) group lesson. Minimum of 4 guests is required to start a lesson. If the minimum is not met, the lesson will be rescheduled. SGD$97.98 per Adult or Child
1. Opening hours:
• Day 2: 10am to 11:45am, 2pm to 4:45pm
• Day 3: 9am to 11:30am, 5pm to 7:45pm
• Day 4: 10am to 11:45am, 2pm to 4:45pm
2. Age/ Height/ Safety requirements
• Minimum age is 6 year old.
• Need to have socks. Shorts allowed.
• No wet clothing
[TIP] You need to queue at the outdoor reception counter at Deck 15 rear starboard side, next to the Rock Wall itself. Turn up at least 30min before the station opens, since prebooking is not available for the Singapore-based cruises. The purpose is to sign the waiver and get a wristband. The reception counter/entrance is NOT the indoor one meant for registering iFly and FlowRider guests just next door.
[TIP] It can get very hot and sunny to queue for and do the climb itself. Time it such that the rock wall is in the sun’s shadow when you want to do this activity. [SUGGESTION TO RCCL: Install an awning shelter for the queueing folks, as it’s already done for the NorthStar.]
1. Opening hours:
a. Day 1: 1pm to 4pm
b. Day 2: 8am to 9:30pm
c. Day 3: 9am to 9:30pm
d. Day 4: 8am to 10pm
2. Age/ Height/ Safety requirements
a. Height restriction for kids of 42 inches (106cm), Those less than 48 inches (122cm) must be accompanied by a supervising companion of at least 14 years of age.
b. Maximum rider weight is 300lbs (136kg)
[TIP] The entrance and outdoor registration counter is on the port (left) side of the North Star at Deck 15. There are 2 queues: one for those with pre-booking (super short), the other without (1-2hr wait not uncommon, given the maximum capacity of 13pax per trip). To shelter queueing passengers, they’ve constructed an awning shelter.
[TIP] Contrary to previous passengers’ experience, the capsule now goes not only go up/down, but also 45 degrees left and right, though still no longer over the side of ship. Staff had said it was because the full swing-setting takes 20mins to complete as opposed to the 15-min cycle that the 45-degree one takes.
[TIP] There is a small circular “pirate nest” to the immediate right after exiting the NorthStar capsule. Great spot to take photos of yourself and the capsule’s exterior.
[-] The operating hours of the Bumper Cars, Roller Skating and Flying Trapeze were irregular, inconsistent and didn’t maximise the SeaPlex’s available hours. For example, Bumper Cars was only available in the early afternoon and late at night (after 9pm) on Day 1, but not other days. It was also not operating on Day 2. Similarly, the Flying Trapeze was only available on Day 1 for 2.5 hours, and not on any other day, although it was a highly popular activity. What this mean is that the Seaplex tends to be underutilised in the late afternoons. (SUGGESTION TO RCCL: Review the Seaplex activity programme timings to ensure that there shouldn’t be any unnatural time gaps in the SeaPlex, especially for certain age groups)
[-] Queuing system – In general, it was not obvious who's in queue vs spectators hanging around the SeaPlex for the various SeaPlex activities. There were no obvious signages, be it at the entrance to the SeaPlex itself, nor at the activity stations. Some passengers also made use of a single group member to jump queue, where the single group member held queue spaces for his entire group. This is unfair to those who had queued up diligently in person (SUGGESTION TO RCCL: Have more obvious signages. Set up a barrier pole system with queue number cards or batch colour wristbands).
[TIP] For all specialised activities (Bumper cars, Roller Skate, Flying Trapeze), you need to show the individual SeaPass for EVERYONE, including and especially kids. Parents cannot register on their kid's behalf using the adult’s card, because after scanning the kid’s SeaPass card, they'll know what he is or not eligible or not due to age restriction. The age restriction is strict as they define age based on birthdate, rather than birth-year. (SUGGESTION TO RCCL: Make this requirement clear in all collaterals and website)
1. Opening hours:
a. Day 1: 1pm to 3:15pm,
b. Day 2: 6pm to 8:30pm, 9pm onwards (teens only)
c. Day 3: 6pm to 8:30pm
d. Day 4: 5pm to 8pm
2. Age/ Height/ Safety requirements
a. To ride the cars, kids must be at least 5 years old and 42 inches tall.
b. If the kid is between 5 and 8 years old, they must be accompanied by an adult
c. To ride alone, the kid must be over 8 years old
d. If the kid is under 13, he/she must be supervised by an adult
[-] This was one of those activities that was bookable on previous cruises, but no longer so on the Singapore cruise. This means that finding out its limited opening hours from the Cruise Compass is key. In general, the queues are slightly shorter on Day 1 early afternoon slot, as people are still shifting into their cabins. The queue for the Bumper Cars was slow moving as there were only 10 - 11 car active in play, despite the huge arena. We had to queue for about 4 batches (around 5min each batch, including allowing people to move into and exit the arena). The SeapleX could have easily squeezed in 5 more cars. Indeed, at least 3 – 5 were parked stationary INSIDE the arena, around its rim. Another 3 more were parked OUTSIDE the arena, possibly as spares. (SUGGESTION: Increase the number of bumper cars in play to 15 at least to process the queue more quickly.)
1. Opening hours:
a. Day 2: 9am to 12:30pm
b. Day 3: 9am to 11:30am
c. Day 4: 9am to 10:30am
2. Age/ Height/ Safety requirements
a. If a kid below 6 is skating, a parent must be on the court with them at all times. The parent need not be on roller-skates.
b. If a kid below 13 is skating, there must be a supervising adult.
c. Dry clothing and socks a must.
d. Wrist guards are compulsory and much needed. Elbow and knee guards are also available but optional.
[-] There was confusion over 2 separate queues for roller skating: the first one to sign the waiver and get wristbands, the second one to get the skates and safety gear. Some passengers wrongly went first to the equipment counter to get their skates. (SUGGESTION TO RCCL: Have more obvious and clearer instructions and signage)
[TIP] The roller slots are half-hour long each, with consecutive slots overlapping by 15minutes.
[TIP] If you’re a first-timer skater trying to learn how to skate properly, try NOT to hug the boundary railing and shuffle your feet/ walk like everyone else. That’s because real skating ISN’T like this. Use the side railing only to the extent of getting a feel of the slipperiness of the skates. Thereafter, try to get a partner (preferably NOT on skates) to hold your 2 hands in front of you instead, with your knees bent and pushing legs pushing 45 degrees backwards. Once you’re more confident, try getting him to push you on the waist from behind, your legs doing the same 45 degree motion. Eventually, try to swing your arms more aggressively, like what you see professional ice skaters do. I find this approach fastest in learning how to skate. Strongly suggest long pants cos your knees will take quite a bit of abrasion.
1. Opening hours:
a. Day 1: 6pm to 8:30pm
2. Age/ Height/ Safety requirements
a. Minimum age of 6
b. No socks or pants needed, strangely.
[-] Trapeze was great fun but there was only 1 slot throughout the entire cruise. With each batch seeing about 8 to 9 pax, each batch takes about 20minutes to clear. So the total number of people who could try it during the cruise was not a lot. (SUGGESTION TO RCCL: Have more slots for Flying Trapeze.)
[TIP] After the ground assistant straps you up in the safety harness, you join a queue to climb a 2-storey ladder. At the top is a small platform with 2 assistants, where you’ll be asked to grab a stabilising verticalpole with your left hand, while your right hand is supposed to grab onto the swing bar itself. One of the assistants will then ask you to let go of the left stabilising pole and grab the swing bar with both hands while bending your knees. Throughout all this time, she will hold on to your safety harness from the back. After she lets go, you’ll automatically swing off the platform due to the tension in the swing bar alone! You’re given about 3 to-and-fro swings at first to get into the rhythm. When the swingmaster on the ground deems you’re ready, he’ll ask you to try to swing your feet up and hook your knees onto the swing bar such that you’re hanging upside down like a bat. Thereafter, he’ll ask you to go back to your original hanging-from-arms position, before ending off with a back-flip attempt to land onto the air cushion. Sounds difficult, but it’s not that hard so long as you’re willing to commit your body momentum
The Seapods, on the floor above the Seaplex, contained game equipment such as table tennis tables, 2 table soccer machines, 2 table hockey machines, and Microsoft XBOX terminals.
[-]The table hockey machines (and the video arcade machines downstairs) require extra charge (USD$1 per game) to play. This smacks of penny-pinching and is odd given that all the other SeaPod machines and activities are complimentary. (SUGGESTION TO RCCL: If the concern is about hogging, then a fairer approach would have been to restrict time usage, by requiring players to scan their Seapass and allocating each person X number of minutes of play.)
There are 3 pool areas:
1. The first is the outdoor pool, which includes the Splashaway water park for children. There are 3 x 24-pax large hot-tubs (0.78m), as well as a swirling hot-tub (1.1m) just for the kids There is also good-sized outdoor pool (1.6m). The Splashaway zone is NOT open at all times, although I can’t see why not.
2. The second is the Family Solarium. This entire area is enclosed and air-conditioned meaning it’s a great place to swim in cold or hot weather. There is a main pool (1.51m to 1.62m deep) and another two large hot tubs (0.78m).
3. The 3rd is the Adult Solarium, located at the front of the ship. Reserved for adults, this place has a series of waterfall-like pools that cascade into one another and 4 hot-tubs (0.8m to 0.82m). The whole place is decorated like a tropical resort with palm trees
[+] There were racks of children personal flotation devices (basically life-vests) situated around the pools for free use. There’re 3 kinds of vests: (a) blue (23kg).
[+] All around the pool areas (as well as the top deck) are many sun-beds; even on the busiest day, there were plenty of empty sun-beds. This could be because Southeast Asians tend not to enjoy sun-tanning.
[-] The one and only pool towel station is situated deep inside the Solarium and quite a far walk from the outdoor pools. Drawing pool towels require SeaPass cards and they’ll scan each towel. They need to be returned to the same towel station to be scanned individually before dumping them into the blue bins. Else they are chargeable at USD$25 each. This is a policy not common on other cruise lines, as passengers would typically wrap themselves in the pool towel to stay warm when they go back to their rooms to shower, and they would return it via the room attendant. (SUGGESTION TO RCCL: allow passengers to return the pool towels via room attendants)
[TIP] On selected nights, usage of the main outdoor pool is halted so that the surrounding sun-beds and the huge outdoor high-definition screen forms an outdoor cinema. However, it started raining halfway as we were watching Sully (2016). While some of the audience retreated into the sheltered walkway around the pool, viewing angles were impeded by the outdoor sun-beds that were immediately in front of us. (SUGGESTION TO RCCL: install retractable awnings for sun-beds around the outdoor deck both to offer some relief from the harsh sun, as well as in case it rains while the outdoor movie is screening.)
[TIP] There is a free soft-serve ice cream machine next to the outdoor pool. However, unlike past cruises, it is now only open for limited daytime hours, and is attended by a crew member, so no more buffet-style self-service.
Pixels – Replacing the older Spectra’s Cabaret, the new version is a 45min performance of unconventional cabaret showcasing eclectic music genres. Technology-heavy, it featured a row of advanced robotic-arm LED screens that complimented the performance, plenty of kaleidoscopic lights and sounds, a highly energetic hostess and excellent[ dancers.
Show times (for 5-day Singapore-Penang-Singapore cruise):
Day 1 – 8pm
Day 3 – 6:30pm and 6pm
Day 4 – 6:30pm and 8pm
[+] They have removed the giant hanging lamp shades that were blocking the views of those on the upper level. Kudos to RCCL for seriously taking passenger feedback!
[-] The show is a little too loud, especially for children.
[TIP] With a seating capacity of only 400 pax, you need to pre-book to ensure that you have seats. However, you should still be at the show 30min prior to ensure you do have seats (45min if you want to secure your preferred seats ), even with bookings! This is because the bookings only ensure you can enter the venue; it’s still free-seating (unlike a cinema) cos the table and seats are not numbered.
[TIP] For the best view of all the high-tech wizardry, choose one of the seats on the upper level rather than sitting downstairs at the front
[TIP] On show nights, there’s usually a sound check and rehearsal at about 3:30pm, which passengers have public caccess to. You can also check out the Vistarama Technical Experience at 10pm, where they showcase the high-tech Vistarama backdrop and Roboscreens.
[TIP] Two70 hosts 1970’s disco parties late into the night (9:30pm on Day 2).
With a seating capacity of 1,300 pax, this is one of the largest show venue onboard any cruise ship. It hosted the main production shows The Beautiful Dream (45min), “Live, Love, Legs” (45min), other “headline” acts (e.g. Sean Laughing, 55min), as well as 3D movies.
[+] Velvet seats were comfortable and sufficiently wide.
[+] The Beautiful Dream was a show about a man who was visited in his dreams by his departed wife, to help him rediscover his passion for life. It was just as good in terms of visuals, sounds and singing/dancing performance as any West End or Broadway Stage I’ve seen. It even featured a fire-breathing dragon and steam train!
[-] The timing and number of sittings vary (for no apparent reason). This makes it hard for passengers to do evening calendar planning, especially dinner times:
o Day 1: Headline act by Connor Bogart – 9pm
o Day 2: The Beautiful Dream - 6:45pm or 8:15pm
o Day 3: Headliner act by Sean Laughling – 8:45pm
o Day 4: Live Love, Legs - 9pm or 10:45pm.
[-] While the Sean Laughlin gravitational comedy act was billed as a guest act from Las Vegas (“extended runs at Riveria Hotel, LV and the Magic Castle, California”), the quality of the act was not quite Last Vegas. The juggling itself was good (especially the throwing of ancient torture instruments such as the morning star). Interaction with audience volunteer was OK (also because the audience volunteer was sporting), the subtle self-deprecating humour was appreciated, but most of the jokes were perhaps too Western-centric? Given that most of the passengers are Asian, perhaps jokes on more well-known American topics (Trump, mother-in-laws) might better connect?
[-] Although it was a relatively short 5-day cruise, there could have been a wider variety of acts/performances, possibly as afternoon matinees. I was looking forward to acts such as acapella, magic (e.g. Singapore-based magician JC Sum who had performed on previous Ovation cruises), stand-up comedy (e.g. Fakkah), giant bubbles, balloons, or even acrobatic (there was a juggling performance by a Japanese world champion in the past. Also possible to hire “X Got Talent” finalists). A related issue was that there was very little pre-cruise info on what or who is performing. Yet such info is useful for potential passengers in deciding whether to go for the cruise or not. [Suggestion to RCCL: Have wider variety of performance. Publish info about trip-specific onboard performances BEFORE the cruise.]
[-] Booster seats were surprisingly not available for kids in the Royal theatre, although they were available in the restaurants. This is odd given that the performances were family-oriented (SUGGESTION TO RCCL: Provide self-service booster seats at the entrances of the Royal Theatre).
[-] Before The Beautiful Dream show started, the theatre was bathed in blue LED lights. The unnatural lighting was disconcerting and glaring to audiences who have to endure it up to 45min before the show starts. (SUGGESTION to RCCL: Just switch on conventional white lights before the show starts)
[-] The 3D movies were great, but the drop-off point for the 3D glasses after the show was a mess. The small tables were simply inadequate to hold >1000 glasses. (SUGGESTION to RCCL: have bins to collect the glasses instead)
[-] Some passengers may not be able to catch the shows for whatever reason, e.g. due to insufficient seats. (SUGGESTION TO RCCL: Should record and playback the show via the room TV so that those who can't watch it for whatever reason can do so in their rooms.)
[TIP] Unlike previous Ovation cruises, the Singapore-based cruise only allowed pre-trip online booking of performances at the Two70, but no longer at the Royal Theatre. As a result, you need to be at the show 30min prior to ensure you do have seats. For large groups, you might want to go for the late-night second sitting if you want to ensure that all are seated together.
[TIP] Stall seats are better than the circle seats, as the circle seats are blocked by an opaque railing. Stall seats beyond Row 5 allow entire stage to be within eye viewing angle.
Children-related Programmes and Facilities
[+] Adventure Ocean has different FREE programmes and classrooms for different age groups: Royal Babies (6 to 18 months), Royal Tots (18 to 36 months), Aquanauts (3 to 5 years), Explorers (6 to 8) and Voyagers (9 to 11). This is even more finely-segregated than Disney Cruise, where kids from 3 to 12 are combined into 1 category. Note: On days where there are fewer children, e.g. during port days, the Explorers and Voyagers' sessions may be combined. The teachers all qualified with University degrees in recreation, education or child-related field.
[+] Due to space and teacher-kid-ratio requirements, there are maximum class size quotas:
1. Aquanauts (3 - 5): 30 kids
2. Explorers (6 - 8): 50 kids
3. Voyagers (9 – 11): 50 kids
[-] Given that there are quotas, parents may unknowingly queue only to find out that there were no more spaces left (SUGGESTION TO RCCL: place signage on the classroom front door to indicate that the programme is full)
[+] The kids programmes go from 9am to 12pm, 2pm to 5pm, and 7pm to 10pm. There is a late night childcare that runs from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m., or until the last child leaves, with a fee of US$7 per child per hour.
[-] While we beat the queue by registering early on embarkation day before the official time, it would have been much easier if parents were allowed to register their kids online before the cruise. (SUGGESTION to RCCL: Allow pre-embarkation registration)
[TIP] Late pickup policy – There’s a $1 per minute fee after the 16th minute from when the scheduled programme ends.
[-] There was very little info about the kids programmes online. Besides the programme themselves, other pertinent info was also missing, e.g. the cut-off age of 3 years-old for Aquanauts is based on birthdate, not birth-year (SUGGESTION TO RCCL: Put up more info on the children’s programme online.)
[+] The kids can be brought for lunch at Windjammer by the teachers, or parents can do it themselves. If brought by the teachers, the menu is kinda fixed: fries or pasta, so parents may want to bring the kids themselves if they’re more health-conscious.
[+] There was a Kids Toilet within the Explorers classroom. I presume the same for all the other classrooms too.
[+] The teachers enforce a handwash regime every 20min.
[-] It was good that the common area toilets have a kid urinal, but surprisingly, I was not able to find any child wash basin. It was thus difficult for our young children to wash their hands. (SUGGESTION TO RCCL: Install steps in front of at least one wash basin in each common toilet, to allow children to climb up to wash their hands. This is already found in Club Med Phuket which is very child-friendly)
[TIP] Kids must be toilet-trained. Adventure Ocean is a diaper-free and pull-up-free area.
[-] Dreamworks characters appearance – This was mostly a photo-taking opportunity, but because the exact spot was not indicated in the collaterals (it merely says “At the Via” but where along the Via?), and indeed only set up in a rather disorganised manner when the character arrives, it was not uncommon for parents and kids who had came early before the character’s arrival to be pushed to the back of an ad-hoc queue. This was suboptimal and not a fair way to organise a photo-taking activity. (SUGGESTION TO RCCL: Set up a queue pole system 15min before the character’s arrival, indicating where the start of the queue is. State more specifically where the photo-taking will take place)
[-] The Splashaway Bay, a kids water park area was VERY HOT and SUNNY between 11am and 3pm. It thus became underutilised during this period. Kids who did venture out could be sun-burnt. In contrast, the water park may also be closed in the event of inclement weather (SUGGESTION to RCCL: Build a simple awning over the waterpark area to provide much needed shade and allow usage even during bad weather)
[+] There’re racks of children personal flotation devices (basically life-vests) situated around the pools for free use. There’re 3 kinds of vests: (a) blue (23kg).
[-] Booster seats were surprisingly not available kids in the Royal theatre, although they were available in the restaurants. (SUGGESTION TO RCCL: Provide self-service booster seats at the entrances of the Royal Theatre).
Enrichment/ Intellectual Activities
[+] There was a pre-bookable All Access Ship Tour (2.5hr, S$140.58) where participants are given a guided tour of the main galley, ingredient storage area, engine control room, ship’s vast laundry facilities, “I-95” (the long corridor in the crew’s area, named after the longest highway on the U.S. east coast) and finally the Bridge.
[+] There was an Adult Scrapbooking Workshop at The Workshop inside Two70.
[+] There were hosted quizzes (“Flags of the World”, Sudoku Challenge, Charades, Win-Lose-Or-Draw, trivia) and craft sessions (napkin/towel folding, rose-making using ribbon materials, Origami, etc.) at the Schooner Bar.
[-] We saw a poster for the Puzzle Break. It was also featured in the Royal IQ app. We understood it was an Escape-room type of game which looked really interesting. But WHERE and WHEN was the Puzzle Break held? The info wasn’t provided on the poster, nor in the Royal IQ app. If it was in the Royal IQ app, why couldn’t we register/pre-book it? (SUGGESTION TO RCCL: Stately clearly where and when the game would be held, applicable participant quota. Put such info on the website. Allow passengers to register for it online or via the app.)
[-] There was a seminar talk on Acupuncture held at the Vitality Spa. The lecturer was a China/Taiwanese national. Many elderly Chinese, some requiring mobility assistance, had turned up for the talk. Nonetheless, because an Indian couple had also turned up, the lecturer had to accommodate them and present her talk in English, which she did competently. However, as a result, 4 elderly Mandarin-speaking passengers couldn’t understand the talk and had to leave at the start of the session. (SUGGESTION to RCCL: Hold 2 sessions: one in English and one in Mandarin to cater to the diverse audiences.)
Fitness Activities & Facilities
[-] The gym and spa were well-appointed, but the spa treatment prices were very high compared to land counterparts. Hence, we didn’t use the onboard facilities. Menu below:
1. Thermage Body (90min) - USD$2832 - Smooth and tighten wrinkled and sagging skin on the tummy
2. Thermage Face & Neck (90min) - USD$2832 - Smooth and tighten wrinkled and sagging skin on the face and neck
3. Exotic Lime & Ginger Salt Glow (50min) - USD$111 – Exfoliation + Oil + scrub
4. Aroma Spa Seaweed Massage (50min) – USD$266 – Aromatherapy + Seaweed mask
5. Couple Deep Tissue Massage (50min) – USD$168 per adult
6. Couple Deep Tissue Massage (75min) – USD$238 per adult
7. Couple Aroma Stone Massage Therapy (75min) – USD$258 per adult
8. Couples Exotic Lime & Ginger Salt Glow (75min) – USD$268 per adult – Oil + Scrub
9. Couples Lime & Ginger Salt Scrub + Massage (50min) – USD$303 per adult
10. Cellutox Seawedd Massage (75min) – USD$381
11. Skin consultation (15-30min) – FREE - analyse your skin
12. Dysport Forehead Lines (30min) – USD$411 – cosmetic treatment for foreheads
13. Dysport Frown Lines (30min) – USD$360
14. Dysport Crow’s Feet (30min) – USD$308
15. Ionithermie Cellulite Reduction Treatment (50min) – USD$111
16. Elemis Body Sculpting Cellulite & Colon Therapy (50min) – USD$128
17. Ionithermie Cheek Lift (50min) – USD$163
18. La Therapie Classique Hydra-Lift Facial (50min) – USD$122
19. Elemis Skin Specifics Facial (50min) – USD$79
20. Elemis Oxydermy Facial (50min) – USD$118 - Microdermabrasion, oxygen and an Elemis facial
21. Elemis Pro-Collagen Quartz Lift Facial (50min) – USD$99 - Wrinkle removal
22. Elemis Tri-Enzyme Resurfacing Facial (50min) – USD$88 - Fine line facial removal
23. Etc. (This is only halfway through their menu)
[TIP] Prices are 30% lower if you book via online Cruise Planner before the trip (price indicated above INCLUDED the 30% discount already!). I also understand that there is a lower rate on port days between 8am and 12pm, and 10% cheaper than other times, when most passengers are at land excursions and the spa is less crowded.
We did not go for any of the shore excursions at Penang as we wanted to maximise the time spent on ship activities.
Royal IQ app
The Royal IQ app is downloadable from Google Play Store anytime before the trip, but content is only accessible when connected to ship’s wifi-based intranet. When connected to the ship’s free wifi-based intranet, it provided the following functionalities:
1. View daily Cruise Planner and add activities to your personal My Calendar (this is NOT the same as booking of the activity/seats, which still has to be done via another step)
2. Book and modify of reservations of activities/shows/dinners
3. View restaurant menus (free + specialty)
4. View Your Statement (critical to ensure you’re not charged for the Evian bottle you didn’t take from your cabin minibar)
[TIP] When you first log onto the app, the app will say that you don't need internet access to use the app (although you need to be connected to the ship’s wifi intranet). However, the next immediate instruction counterintuitively directs you to a log-on screen to buy the expensive internet packages. DON’T MISTAKENLY SIGN UP for the package unless you really want to buy the Voom Surf + Stream Voyage – Unlimited Wifi internet access package. Prices below:
1. USD$12 for 1 device
2. USD$22 for 2 devices
3. USD$31 for 3 devices
4. USD $39 for 4 devices
5. USD $42 for 5 device
[-] I felt that the Royal IQ App had so much potential but lacked a number of key features and hence was seriously underutilised by RCCL. I understand that the Royal IQ app will be replaced by the Excalibur app in summer 2017. One of its key new feature is to allow “e-commerce”. [SUGGESTION TO RCCL: While e-commerce has its business case, I hope that new Excalibur app can fix the bugs and incorporate the suggested features below to make the app more useful to passengers in the first place:]
1. The Cruise Compass timings in the app were not always aligned to the paper Cruise Compass. Show timings could be off by 15min. It seemed that info was uploaded into the app at the start of trip, but not updated thereafter? Printed ones were more accurate.
2. Allow not just adding of activities into My Calendar, but also simultaneous booking of activities (e.g. bumper car, roller skate, spa treatment)
3. Allow passengers to sign their waiver forms for onboard activities (the app came to a page where the instructions require clicking a tick/Yes button, but there was no tick button! The waiver page seemed to be designed for a webpage that wasn’t properly translated into the app)
4. Add alarm reminder for booked activities and calendar activities.
5. Include deck plans + Search function for venue location.
6. Provide basic timing info such as what time the ship will arrive at port, what time passengers are able to disembark, or what time passengers need to be back on the ship, etc.
7. There was a chargeable communications package that allows unlimited texting and voice calls to other guests onboard the ship for $7.95 on the Royal IQ, but (a) it couldn’t do group messaging, and (b) I felt that this shouldn’t have incurred an extra charge, given that the messaging feature runs on the same “royal-wifi” intranet infrastructure that the app already runs on to deliver its baseline services. The data bandwidth load for such intra-ship comms should be minimal as it’d likely just be families coordinating their activities. This is vastly different from off-ship internet access, which rightfully should charge extra given that it requires expensive VSAT equipment.
8. The app keeps crashing, or rather the “royal-wifi” keeps logging my device out WITHOUT ALERTING me. This means that even when I paid for the text/voice call package, I may not be able to receive comms and I WON’T KNOW.
[TIP] A good communication alternative is to stick a Post-It note on the door rather than to use the payable text-messaging function on the Royal IQ app, or walkie-talkies (they are practically useless deep in the ship with so many metal obstructions).
Throughout the trip, there will be a roaming professional photographer. We saw one taking photos at the restaurants, Dreamworks character appearances and studio set-up along the Royal Esplanade. Photo choosing and collection is done at the Photo Gallery located on Deck 5.
[-] Prices were expensive. Price list:
1. 5 digital or printed 8x10 inch photos - USD$79.99
2. 10 digital or printed 8x10 inch photos - USD$149.99
3. 15 digital or printed 8x10 inch photos - USD$199.99
4. All digital or printed 8x10 inch photos – USD$249.99
[TIP] There’s a $25 Early Bird Savings if you sign up for the $249.99 all-inclusive package, within the first 3 days of the cruise
[TIP] Pinnacle, Diamond and Diamond Plus passengers can purchase 5 printed photos for USD$50.
[TIP] Photo-taking of the photos on the numerous LED screens that allow you to choose your photos is prohibited. If they catch you, they will charge the full price to your SeaPass account. This is explicitly stated on signs everywhere in the Photo Gallery.
2nd Last Day
1. Passport collection is done the day before disembarkation. On the 3rd las day, every cabin will receive a paper notice explaining the collection procedure, including where you need to go. Typically, counters are set up at every lift lobby on every deck and you can collect within a given time window. The process is quite speedy.
2. Disembarkation luggage tags will also be provided together with the notice. You need to put your luggage outside your cabin by 10pm that night, if you want them to deliver it for you to the shore luggage belt the next day.
[TIP] Check your statement using the Royal IQ app. It is not that uncommon for items that you didn’t use (e.g. Evian water from minibar) to be charged to your room, according to other passengers’ experiences.
[TIP] The paper notice will also state the assigned disembarkation times for different decks. But they may make broadcast announcements as early as 8:15am that people can disembark early because the gangways are still quite empty. I strongly suggest doing so, especially if you’ve already had breakfast. The reason is that the queues during the assigned times are HORRENDOUS! Easily stretching 100m long each for the bow and stern queues, it can take an hour to shuffle through just to reach the gangway that exits the ship.
[TIP] It’s faster to carry all your luggage with you and disembark earlier. The assigned timing is more to ensure that those who disembarked can link up with their check-in luggage onshore at the correct time. So if you only have hand-carry luggage, you can effectively leave anytime.
[TIP] If you want to leave later than your allocated timing, alert your cabin attendant. They’ll try to accommodate you, but even then, 9:30am is pushing it. They need you to vacate cos they need to clean the room before the next batch passengers check in on the same day by 1pm.
[TIP] There is no breakfast room service on the last day.
[-] The main cause of the bottleneck (besides immigration control and customs) was the 2 small counters just before each exiting gangway to scan your SeaPass card (to prove that you’ve left the ship. You get to keep the card). Assuming 4900 / 2 = 2450 passengers per gangway, this means each counter has to process 2450 / 2 = 1225 passengers! [SUGGESTION: Move the scanning station to the end of the gangway instead where there’s more space and set up at least 3 counters. Having 1 more counter will cut processing time by another 50%!]
Billing and Credit Cards
Q1: If I’ve already pegged a credit card to my Onboard Expense Account online before the trip, do I still need to settle the bill at Guest Services on the last night?
A: There is no need to do so. That said, the online linking of your credit card before trip is only half the process. You still need to let them scan your credit card at the shore check-in counter to ensure the linkage is complete.
Also, if you still wish to check your bill, you can view your Statement via the Royal IQ app or TV interactive menu.
Q: If I’ve already linked my credit card for charging purpose, what if I change my mind and want to use cash instead while on board?
A: This is possible. At any time, you can go to Guest Services and inform them that you want to pay your bill either fully or partially in cash. Note that cash payment must be in USD.
Q: How do I minimise unnecessary credit card currency conversion charges?
A: At the check-in counter, make sure you tell the staff that you want OPTION B: DECLINE CURRENCY CONVERSION. Under this option, you will be billed in USD and the conversion will via your bank’s exchange rate which is usually better than RCCL’s.
Apologies for the long read. Hope you’ll find it useful Read Less