This review for the Quantum of the Seas is based on the 2-night sampler cruise, November 21-23. Admittedly, 2 nights is not enough time to fairly evaluate all of the pros and cons of this ship. But it is sufficient enough to at least get a sense for the vessel, the crew and what to expect on a longer cruise. Overall, despite the ship being new and beautiful, my wife and I left after the 2 nights still waiting to be wow’d. The crew seems to be struggling at times with the technology, and Royal Caribbean has a number of issues to resolve regarding long lines, the reservation process, and the dissemination of incorrect information.
BAYONNE CRUISE SHIP TERMINAL
Normally we cruise from Manhattan, so leaving from Bayonne, NJ was a new experience. Getting to the terminal is relatively easy from points west via I-78. I recommend reviewing directions on line before you drive, especially to look at the “street view” perspective to have an idea of what the roads look like after exiting the 2 toll booths in order to know whether to bear left or right. There are also several videos on You Tube showing the drive, which are helpful with familiarizing yourself with the roads. Note: the map view on Mapquest is not as current as the map view on Google Maps. There has been an extension of Pulaski Street in recent years, which makes it easier than following the given map directions (or road signs). The Mapquest directions require you to access 440 from Pulaski Street at a controlled intersection, then exit off of 440 onto Goldsborough Drive a mile or so later at a 2nd controlled intersection. In reality, if you look at a new map, you can take Pulaski Street directly to Port Terminal Blvd and avoid 440 altogether. This is what we did.
Although the approach to the cruise ship terminal makes the area appear quite sketchy (even the comedian onboard joked about the area around the terminal being rough), the parking at the terminal was easy and has the appearance of being secure. There is ample parking at the terminal, in several gated parking lots. Parking is $19/day. Shuttle buses will carry you the short distance from the parking lot to the curb at the terminal so that you do not need to walk along the busy road. Newspaper articles indicate that a 900-car parking garage will be built at the terminal, but it is not there yet.
For us, from the time we entered the terminal to the time we walked aboard the ship was only about 15 minutes. This is definitely quicker than at the Manhattan piers, but it was not well organized. There were no queues to direct us from one point to the next, so three different times we needed to ask “Where do we go next?”
Since we had no checked luggage, from the curb we were directed inside and told to look for someone in a blue Royal Caribbean shirt holding an iPad to check us in. None were available as they were all helping other guests. So we were told we could go through security first and check-in on the other side. Once through security, when we asked, we were again instructed to look for someone in a blue Royal Caribbean shirt holding an iPad. Again, they were all busy. So we had to mill around one of them and wait, the way you might wait in a circle around an administrator while on a college tour, hoping he turns in your direction next.
Check in was relatively quick, but I would think it would be easier for the staff to work from a podium rather than doing everything on a pad where they are juggling scanning your sea pass, your passport, and (in some cases we saw) taking a photo if the passenger had not already uploaded one on line. Once our check-in was completed we were directed to go to the “gate attendant” next, who would check our validated sea pass and let us pass through to the gangway.
We found it strange that no one was trying to shepherd us over to the wall for an embarkation photo, so we wandered over there first, instead of going to the gate attendant, and asked if we could have our picture taken. They photographer obliged, took our cabin number, and we then proceeded through the gate, up the gangway, and onto the ship where we were greeted by … no one. Again, this just seemed strange to us, having sailed several times before and remember having someone, anyone, greeting you and giving you some general directions.
I would give the boarding process 4 stars. It was quick, but not efficient.
Since we were only on a 2-night cruise, and this was late November in New Jersey, we did not feel the need to book a balcony stateroom. Instead, we reserved an ocean view cabin on deck 3. When we found our cabin our key cards were waiting for us in an envelope outside the door. Inside, on the bed, were our RFID bracelets.
The room was immaculate and spacious. Perhaps it appeared larger since we usually have a balcony, that takes away some of the space; I cannot be sure without seeing one of the balcony cabins. As other reviewers have noted, you need to insert your key card in a slot inside the cabin, on the bulkhead adjacent to the door, to activate the lights. This is also where the thermostat is located. Our cabin was set at 73, which was too warm for us as normally our thermostat is set at 58 for the entire winter, but that is just a matter of personal taste. I mention it only because the high temps tend to dry out the air in the cabin, and consequently in ones sinuses, if you spend any time in your room.
The cabin contained a rather large closet with two coat-hanger bars, one high and the other low. This closet was more than sufficient for our luggage, clothes, and winter coats. A second closet contains about a half-dozen cubby-holes and the personal room safe. There is also a pair of drawers below this closet. A small desk with a chair on the opposite wall contains several more drawers as well as the room’s refrigerator. Interestingly, the refrigerator has a personal 4-digit lock on it, just like the room safe.
The bed is large, but our mattress was much too hard; it was not as comfortable as beds we have slept in on other ships. That could simple be a matter of this ship being so new and the mattresses having not yet been broken in. At the foot of the bed is a large, wall mounted, flat screen TV.
The window in the ocean view cabin is sufficiently large, but unfortunately ours was so caked with salt on the outside (probably from rough seas and a lot of spray on the previous voyage) that visibility through it was greatly diminished.
The bathroom was roomy, with a stall shower large enough for two, and all of the typical plumbing. Shower gel, shampoo, conditioner and soap are provided, but these are individual tubes rather than a wall mounted unit within the shower.
I would give the cabin 5 stars. It was clean, roomy, and well laid out.
THE SHIP: FIRST IMPRESSIONS
The ship itself is gorgeous. Walking through it reveals much in the way of funky art, bustling thoroughfares, and quiet nooks and corners. Everything was clean and new; hopefully the crew can keep it looking that way. The soaring aft elevators, with butterflies on the walls and a transparent floor up on deck 15, gives the ship a sense of majesty that is missing on other new ships such as the Norwegian Breakaway. At no time did the Quantum of the Seas ever feel crowded to me, even with the fact that it was too cold on deck for most passengers to remain outside so they had to be walking around in here, somewhere.
The central area of the ship, the Royal Esplande, had the feel of an upscale mall. This may be a theme common to RCCL ships and enjoyed by loyal Royal Caribbean passengers, but for me it was not an asset. Being in that mall-like atmosphere, much of it without windows, I did not feel connected to the ship or to the sea. And the fact that virtually none of the stores held any interest for my wife or me to stop and browse, we usually just walked through this section of the ship to get from point A to point B.
Perhaps the two most elegant aspects of the ship are fore and aft. The Solarium, in the bow of the ship, was marvelous. On this cruise it was quiet and relaxing, though I can imagine it being much noisier on cruises to warmer climates. The Two-70, in the stern of the ship, is a multi-story café filled with succulents and surrounded by windows. It, too, would be a great escape place on a longer voyage.
Unfortunately, other than the Solarium or the Gym, there is no public space on the outside of the ship from which to view foreward. Likewise, other than a small seating area adjacent to the Windjammer buffet area, there is no public outside area from which to view aft. There is also no place, other than the jogging track, on which to walk laps around the outside of the ship. I suspect the jogging track, which circles the pools and is, itself, encircled by lounge chairs, is not a quiet location when there are many passengers on deck.
I would give the ship itself 4 stars. There is a lot to see, and a lot of places to just walk around and explore. But in many respects it fails to connect the passenger with the ocean, which is really the purpose of taking a cruise in the first place.
THE SHIP: TECHNOLOGY
When and if it works, this will be a positive. Restaurant servers take all orders on electronic tablets. Guest Services employees also use electronic tablets to answer questions. The problem is that everything requires reservations, and these often take way too long standing in line to make. I tried to make as many reservations in advance, on-line, as I could. But often the RCCL reservation system was “on vacation”, as its error message proclaimed, or stated that reservations needed to be made onboard rather than in advance, on the internet. Perhaps Type-B personalities are OK with this, but a strong Type-A personality will find this to be exasperating.
As an example of the lines, when we first boarded (and after we had left our luggage in our cabin) we went to get something to eat. The restaurants such as American Icon and Chic had lines in front of them, so we got on line thinking it was to sit down. We quickly discovered that these lines were for passengers trying to book seating reservations for that night. There were no restaurants serving lunch; only the buffet in Windjammer. This was not clearly conveyed, and could have been avoided by more information up front.
As an example of a technical problem, the night I went down to the gift store to pick up a few things, none of the registers were working. All merchandise had to be manually written on a paper invoice, passengers had to present their key card to identify themselves as their RFID bracelets did not include their name or room number, and tax was manually calculated. (Yes, Royal Caribbean said that since they were not in International waters, they needed charged New York sales tax, despite us being in the ocean, sailing south towards Virginia. On top of this, the clerk somehow calculated $46 tax on a $38 purchase and thought nothing about it being wrong until I brought it to his attention. He then had to rewrite the entire receipt.)
An interesting tech feature is that the photo gallery on the Quantum is all digital. The ship does not print reams of photos, most of which are not purchased and therefore destroyed after each voyage. Instead, everything is digital. You can view the pictures they take on one of the many screens in the gallery and then select which ones you want printed; no waste. I was curious, however, as to why the photo gallery was empty of any passengers on this cruise. The attendant told me that because the ship was not in International waters they were not permitted to take and sell any photos onboard (hence the reason no one was taking pictures at every table in the dining rooms). I asked about the embarkation photo that we had taken and he found it in the system using our room number (apparently only a few people had one taken) and gave it to us complimentary. So that was the one, and only, perk we received from sailing on one of the pre-inaugural cruises to nowhere.
I would give the ship’s technology 3 stars. I am sure it will get better, once all of the kinks are worked out and the crew gets used to it. I am also certain that RCCL will data mine the Big Data information they collect from their RFID bracelets and make changes to make a more pleasurable experience for all of their guests. But on this cruise, the technology got in the way and may have even stressed some crewmembers out to the point that they were more focused on their tablets than on the passenger asking them a question.
On deck, there is an abundance of unique activities. In addition to Flow Rider, there are Bumper Cars, the simulated Sky Diving experience, and North Star. Unfortunately, on this cruise there were lines for everything and everything booked up before we could try anything. iFly, for example, was never open for reservation on-line, but was booked solid by the time we even got down there to inquire about reservations.
That was extremely disappointing in regards to North Star. I had made my reservation on this ship more than a year in advance, and the one thing I wanted to do was to go up the arm to take some pictures of the ship. Yet at every turn there was an issue and misinformation provided by the crew. At first there was simply a long line, but no reservations needed. Then it was put in the flyer left in the cabin that tickets would be required the next day. Guest Services apparently did not get this memo for when I went there bright and early they still said no reservations were required. On deck, however, there was a line that stretched to the bow.
This was not the line to get on North Star; it was the line to get a ticket to come back later to get on. And the most galling thing of all was that when the end of the line finally got up to where they were giving out tickets (actually, a blue circular sticker of some sort), the person in charge announced “I only have 16 left”. At that point, there were probably still 50 people waiting in line who had been there all along. There was no apology from the person giving out tickets to those who did not get one, nor was there what I would call an “empowered decision” by that person or someone in the crew to give the remaining 35 people a ticket and say, “OK, this is a 2 night cruise, this is the last day of the cruise, these people have waited in line, we’re going to keep North Star open an extra hour today to accommodate everyone.” That, in my opinion, was poor information, poor planning, poor execution and poor customer satisfaction.
I would give the ship’s activities, on this cruise, 1 star. Surely that will improve, too, but not until Royal Caribbean figures out an equitable way to handle reservations. Perhaps they might want to ask Disney for some help with crowd management.
There are 3 main attractions on this ship as far as I am concerned: Sonic Odyssey, Star Water, and Mama Mia. The first of these, Sonic Odyssey, features something known as the Earth Harp. This instrument, which, uses the natural acoustics of the room was developed by a contestant on the TV show America’s Got Talent. Unfortunately, its performance was not previewed on our cruise. When I asked Guest Services about it they simply said that the show was still in production. It would have been nice had RCCL mentioned this on their web site BEFORE the cruise, for those of us who wanted to experience it, but again communication is not Royal Caribbean’s strong suit.
The second of the shows, Star Water, is a mess. Plain and simple, Royal Caribbean might want its guests to say WOW, but after seeing this show it was another 3-letter acronym beginning with “W” that came to mind. Since the reservations for this show were not an option on-line, and it was also booked solid from the moment we stepped aboard, my wife and I had to wait in the standby line for a half-hour. When we were allowed inside, one entire section was empty but being held for Gold Card Members, or whatever. So we had to stand in back. Eventually, once the show started, this vacant section was opened so that passengers who were standing could sit. My question is, why is RCCL reserving a section of the room for Gold passengers who waited in line without reservations?
Star Water is a 1 hour show without focus, without a theme, and without hope. That is my opinion, which was shared by some of the other passengers I spoke with while on board. Only one person I talked with loved it, but they also admitted it was the first cruise they had ever been on and the first show on a cruise they had ever seen. My guess is that they did not have a lot to compare it against.
The best I can do to describe the production is to say that it is sort of blues, interpretative dance, and 20s music rolled together. The venue of Two-70 is great; don’t get me wrong. The technology is intriguing. But the production did not do the venue or the technology justice. I knew there was something wrong with the show when I found myself being more interested watching the giant jellyfish on the screens than the performers. Star Water is not high energy; nor is it something memorable. It began with a production that sounded like they might be warming up to do a Madonna song (Vogue), but all they did was sing the single line, “Strike a pose”. Next it looked like maybe they were going to do a James Bond theme song, but again, all they did was sing the same single line, “Diamonds are Forever”, over and over, without ever completing the song. It was…. bad.
I judge a cruise ship performance based on how I felt during, and after it, and whether I would want to see it a second time. I honestly have to say that I regret seeing this one even once, as it took an hour away that I could have spent elsewhere on the ship.
Fortunately, the third show was Mama Mia, and it was phenomenal. You need to be a fan of Broadway musicals to enjoy it, and it does not hurt to enjoy the music of ABBA. But if you are, this was a great experience and 2 ½ hours well spent. Judging from the standing ovation given at the end of the show, I would say most of the audience felt the same way. My wife and I thoroughly enjoyed this musical and would definitely have seen it again, had we the opportunity.
I would give the ship’s entertainment, on this cruise, 2 stars. That is because Sonic Odyssey was not shown, Star Water was a 0, and Mama Mia was a 5. Again, just my opinion.
Dining on the Quantum of the Seas was a mess. It is sort of sad to say that the best food, and the best service, was at the buffet in Windjammer. But that is the truth.
I called up weeks prior to the cruise to try to make my restaurant reservations. For the first night I selected Silk, based on the menu shown on-line. I was told that there are no reservations before 7 PM because the ship was leaving at 8 PM, the muster drill was an hour before departure, and the restaurants would not open until after the muster drill. Well, this was totally wrong as the muster drill was about 4 or 4:30 and the restaurant opened at 5:30. There was no line at 5:30 so my wife and I walked right up, right in, and were seated at a table for 2 immediately, without reservations.
That was a pleasant surprise. The fact that the menu we were handed not only did not match what was on line, but did not match what was on the onboard TV screens, was disappointing. Usually I have a hard time deciding what to select from a cruise menu because so much looks good. On this cruise, it was the opposite. Most items did not sound appealing so it was hard to select something. I had the Sake Salmon, which was good, while my wife had the Hibachi beef and said it was so tough it was not edible. The desserts were not good. For the first time ever, I actually left a restaurant on a cruise still feeling hungry.
The second night we ate at Grande. Why had reservations for 8:15 and wound up standing in the same, single line as folks who did not have a reservation. Go figure. The food here was definitely better than at Silk the night before, but the service was slow and the portions seemed abnormally small. (i.e., the lobster tails entrée are smaller than the prawns appetizer.) Unless you like getting dressed up for dinner, it is not worth bringing the suit or gown onboard just for this. Somehow, however, I suspect that most loyal RCCL passengers do enjoy playing dress-up.
For breakfast and lunch we ate at the American Icon. This was a fiasco. Service was painfully slow and not organized. As an example, for breakfast my wife and I each ordered tea, juice, a menu item and a side. Our tea came, but was the wrong kind (no big deal). The main item came 10 minutes later, by which time we had finished our tea. About two-thirds of the way through eating the main item, the side finally came. And the juice? That did not come until we were finished eating and getting ready to get up and leave.
For lunch it was a similar scenario, but this time with dessert not coming until 23 minutes after we ordered it. (Yes, I timed this one.) When asked where dessert was, all our server said was that it was very confused in the kitchen. Perhaps I would not have minded had the food been great, but it was just…. meh.
Now, Windjammer was good. They were crowded, so finding a table for 2 took a little bit of scouting out, but the food was fine, with a nice assortment and variety. Had I been on this ship for a 7 night cruise, my guess is I would have wound up in Windjammer for several meals simply to avoid the menu and service in the restaurants.
I should note that there appeared to be few places on board at which one could to get a late, midnight snack. That was disappointing.
I would give the ship’s dining, on this cruise, 2 stars. If this is typical of Royal Caribbean’s fleet wide menu, it needs some serious work.
We did not have a lot of interaction with the crew on this cruise. For one, there was not an officer to be seen. For two, most of the crew members we saw (other than the room stewards) had their faces buried in their electronic tablets. Perhaps this voyage was part of the shake down trips used as a stress test for the crew. If so, they failed as it seemed any crewmember we passed was deeply absorbed in their own issues. I am not asking for much, really. But at very least, when I ask a question and preface it by saying that the last person just told me something that was incorrect, be apologetic and give me the correct information. This did not happen on this trip.
I would give the ship’s crew, on this cruise, 1 star. I would also make the suggestion that they need to maintain a little more eye contact with the passenger standing in front of them, and a little less on the electronic device in their hand.
OMG, the problems here were legion. I cannot even get into all of them, other than to say that they began MONTHS before we even left, with the RCCL website not functioning, getting emails from RCCL that say “Book your entertainment now”, yet then giving you links that say “Oops, our site is on vacation”, and RCCL phone representatives giving completely erroneous information.
The previous cited example of the Northstar first not needing reservations, then needing reservations, is just the tip of the iceberg. It goes much deeper. Even simple things like asking the hostess in front of American Icon, “what time is breakfast tomorrow” and being told “7:30”, then showing up at 7:30 only to be told “We don’t open till 8 am”, without so much as an apology.
Just getting on the ship was another example. My ticket instructed me that boarding would not be before 2:30. When I called to confirm, I was told that I should not arrive at the pier any earlier than 2:00. We decided to hedge our bets in case there was a lot of traffic, and arrived at 1:30. Not only was one parking lot already completely filled, but there were a ton of people already onboard. Why? Because apparently boarding actually began as early as 10:45 AM! That was why all of the reservations were taken by the time we got there “early”.
Here is just one more. Before sailing, while on the phone with RCCL, I asked if the Duty Free shop would be open. I was told certainly, it would be. Yet on the cruise, they had signs in the Duty Free shop that said “No Liquor & Tobacco Sales due to Inaugural Cruise. Thank you for your understanding”. This was extremely disappointing and should have been mentioned somewhere on line in the information about this particular cruise.
I asked why there was no liquor bottles being sold and was told that it was because we were not cruising in international waters. (This was the same reason given for why the embarkation photos were free and why they were charging NY tax on souvenirs.) Yet, at the end of the cruise, when we were all given custom forms to fill out, I asked why. I was told it was because we had technically left the country by sailing offshore in international waters. Huh? Someone needs to get their story straight. If we were in international waters, why no duty free sales? And if we were not in international waters, why the custom forms when we docked? I don’t generally have to pass through customs and declare my purchases when travelling from one state to another.
Finally, to be picky, on the drive to the cruise terminal I heard an ad on the radio for the Quantum of the Seas. I thought it was quite a coincidence since that was where I was heading, so I paid attention. At the end of the commercial they proudly proclaimed, “Now sailing from New York!” Um, RCCL, check a map. Bayonne is in New Jersey, not New York, and it rather insulting to us New Jersey residents to hear such things being said. The Quantum of the Seas sails from NEW JERSEY.
For the lack of correct information both prior to and throughout the cruise, I give 0 stars.
Leaving the ship was super-fast. We had breakfast in Windjammer at 6 AM, took one last stroll around the deck to see the NYC Skyline and the harbor, then grabbed our bags and walked off shortly before 7 AM. No lines, no waiting. We were in our car and heading back to the turnpike within about 10 minutes.
The bottom line is this, if you are a loyal Royal Caribbean customer you will probably love this ship and have a great time on her. This was our first experience with RCCL, wanting to give them a try, experience the new ship first hand, and also try sailing from New Jersey instead of Manhattan. The Bayonne experience was good; fast and easy. The new ship is gorgeous, no question. The staff, and RCCL itself, hmmm – that is where I find much fault.
We went in with the perception that RCCL was supposed to be a cut above some of the other cruise lines, but left with the feeling that they are not. The problem is that they think that they are. Overall, it is questionable whether I would sail on RCCL again. It would depend on the destination, the price, and what alternative options I have. Personally, for my money, I am sticking with Norwegian Cruise Lines.