This was our 29th voyage (various Lines throughout the world) and 7th occasion with Royal Caribbean (second time on 'Voyager'); we had booked this 15-day cruise to New Caledonia, Fiji and New Zealand on a balcony-guarantee basis ... Read More
This was our 29th voyage (various Lines throughout the world) and 7th occasion with Royal Caribbean (second time on 'Voyager'); we had booked this 15-day cruise to New Caledonia, Fiji and New Zealand on a balcony-guarantee basis and were allocated Cabin 1828, one of the newly-constructed balcony accommodations located forward on Deck 12. Check-in at Sydney's Circular Quay was very efficient. We were very impressed on arrival at 1828, the cabin even smelt brand-new. We were pleased that the ship's Master was Captain Sverre Ryan, who had been the Master when we previously sailed on Voyager some 14 months earlier. Our dinner-companions at Table 291 in the Level 3 Sapphire Dining Room (second seating) were a wonderfully eclectic group from the United States - three senior ladies in their 60s from Houston and their 80 year-old aunt, and also a very vibrant couple from Georgia. Immediately from the embarkation dinner, the senior waiter demonstrated a tremendous degree of "attitude" towards our entire group, including the senior ladies from Houston. By the fourth evening at Noumea, when this employee aggressively slammed a plate of steamed rice on the table and stalked off to his next duty without a word, the defining moment had been reached for our group. Complaints were made to the Head Waiter who immediately removed the waiter from our table and replaced him with an extremely professional and pro-active waiter - the "new" waiter (Ketut Santosa) was a true gentlemen in every sense. The Table's junior waiter up to this point had been clearly embarrassed by his senjor colleague's repeated displays of bad temper and the improvement in teamwork and the more upbeat mood by the local Dining Room staff was quickly apparent after the Dining Room management took action.
The Dining Room meals on this voyage were exceptional. Starters, Mains and Desserts were all tremendous. Well done to all concerned in the Voyager's kitchens! Our chef for much of the voyage was 'Sixto' and he would often visit our Table to check on us! One of the Houston ladies had a number of food-allergies and the kitchen and waiting staff were nothing short of exemplary in their care and attention to this lady and all others at our table. Special mention also to our Head Waiter (Roshan D'Souza) whose highly professional management of his area of responsibility was outstanding. In spite of the very poor start to the evening meals up until Noumea, this voyage's Dining Room experience is one of our most enjoyable. Something that was also excellent to see? The mens' no singlet (and no cap) rules being very efficiently policed at all meal-times by the Sapphire's door-staff, much to the relief of those diners who don't find it a great struggle to wear a shirt with minimal sleeves into a 5-star restaurant. More, please!
'Voyager' docked at Noumea's Container Terminal on a Sunday - not a great shock for us as we had experienced this before, but a great disappointment to first time local cruisers and especially to the many non-Australian passengers who had been expecting to see some life in the township. We did a large walking-circuit of the town and saw one duty-free shop (deserted), the Johnson Supermarket at the Cruise Terminal and the after-hours pharmacy were all the business that were open. This is not a criticism of Royal Caribbean - local customs are just that. It is unusual in these times though to see a town with in excess of 2000 tourists wandering about wanting to spend money and not being able to do so.
Lautoka was an unremarkable port, but interesting enough just to see some local colour within the town and around the port-facility. It was very nice being greeted by Fijians who would warmly say 'Bulla' in passing without seeking some business-benefit in return. The walk to town from the shipping-berth is of about 2 kilometres in distance and takes about 20 minutes of steady (but not hurried) walking. Passengers we spoke with who took the Royal Caribbean excursion to nearby Nadi said that it was a very good day.
Auckland was again a very enjoyable port - we took a train-trip to the village of Onehunga and enjoyed a delicious coffee at one of the local cafes and had an excellent walk around the the very interesting area. The afternoon was spent at the picturesque village of Devonport, directly across from Auckland CBD and and an easy 12-minute ferry-ride. A very pleasant fish-and-chip lunch and a walk at the Devonport waterfront completed our day in Auckland. One of the nicest Friday the 13ths we can remember!
Arrival at Tauranga (Valentines Day - Saturday) was at a very early 545AM to allow for the tidal-movements and maneuvering of 'Voyager' through the tight shipping-channel at this very scenic location. It was a busy day for the port and local businesses, hosting 'Voyager', 'Diamond Princess' and Ponant's small ship 'L'Austral'. The day quickly became quite warm and the passengers of all ships were welcomed by the locals. Sailing out of Tauranga is always a great experience with locals waving from Mount Maunganui and the various small-boat wharves in the vicinity. Too bad about the certain passengers aboard 'Voyager' who felt the need to start yelling "Aussie, Aussie, Aussie" (etc) at local well-wishers. Patriotism is one thing, decorum and being respectful in another country is clearly something else. Shipping-passengers are made very welcome by New Zealanders in all their ports, it's very poor grace to start screaming your country's name at them as you leave. Not fun or funny, just embarrassing.
This particular night (i.e., Day 10, after departure from Tauranga) an event was staged from 10PM to 1230AM within the Deck 11 Solarium-area and was headlined 'Club Twenty Outdoor Night Club'. This scheduling by Royal Caribbean was unforgiveable. The music was so loud that the floor in our cabin was shaking and vibrating; the glass-door for the balcony was shaking; the cabin-furniture was shaking. There were four (that's right, four) persons patronising this event when we checked, plus a Royal Caribbean Security Guard who said that he had no jurisdiction to stop the event. We rang Guest Services to complain at 1130PM and were offered an alternate cabin to sleep-in for that night (!). For a business that repeatedly promises "relaxing" experiences, then deliberately schedules such an intrusive late-night event immediately adjacent to cabin accommodations, this is just is not on. A second complaint to Guest Services was made by us at midnight. The (male) employee advised that it is Royal Caribbean's policy to stage such events wherever on the ship the company feels is appropriate (oh, really?), and seemed to take exception that we were complaining of the noise. We then asked for any of the on-duty Hotel Services management to come to our cabin and examine the level of noise for themselves and were told this was not possible as the various Managers would now be asleep. Lucky Managers - too bad the same level of rest is not made available to the Deck 12 passengers (although we could hear the noise at the aft-end elevators on Deck 10 when returning from dinner). This Guest Services employee played a meaningful part in the rest of our cruise (see further in this review). We spoke with Cruise Director Zack Stratford the following morning and were given a very sympathetic hearing, for which we are grateful. We had asked the male Guest Sevices employee for feedback to our complaint and two days later received a message on our cabin-telephone to advise that the cause of the noise had been deck-staff dragging chairs around the Deck 11 poolside and that the supervisor had allegedly been instructed to minimise further noise of chairs being dragged. Too bad this had nothing to do with our complaint or our sleepless night.
Wellington was an early arrival at 7AM on Monday 16 February, and it was cold! We took the train to the historic village of Petone on the far side of Wellington Harbour and had a very enjoyable walk around the area, followed by yet another delicious New Zealand coffee at the cafe within the Whitcoulls bookshop in Wellington CBD.
The many sea-days throughout this voyage were very relaxing, with the notable exception of the Valentine's Day Party. Plenty of activities were on offer and Cruise Directors Chris Brown and Zack Stratford were excellent, and ably supported by the supremely energetic Lizzy (Activities Manager). TV-reception was constant throughout the voyage with channels being sourced from whichever country was the nearest, in addition to the standard Royal Caribbean entertainment-channels.
Our dinner-companions from Georgia (travelling in the Deck 10 'Genoa' Suite) related how each night, the constant noise from chairs being dragged around throughout the night had caused them to be sleeping with ear-plugs - before resorting to this, one of them had gone to the pool-deck in the middle of the night and challenged the pool-staff before going to Guest Services to complain, allegedly without any resolution being provided. Things did not improve over the following nights, so these passengers who had travelled from Georgia to Australia for their vacation had now needed to resort to ear-plugs in spite of the premium they had paid for a full suite on 'Voyager'. A further rumour also circulated the Dining Room alleging of another Deck 10 male passenger who had become so outraged by the nightly noise of chairs being dragged (by passengers, this time) around Deck 11 that he had threatened an altercation with the passengers concerned, and had instead been detained by the ship's security staff.
Our male 'friend' from Guest Services made a point of asking us for our names after the Valentines Day complaints, on each occasion that we asked for a wake-up call (Nights 10, 11, 12, 13, 14). This employee answered our phone-call on each night we rang for a wake-up call and insisted that it is Royal Caribbean policy to confirm the names of the persons in the cabin concerned when requesting a wake-up call. Yes, this really happened. Each call was made from our cabin telephone, not from some hallway or bar telephone. This went on for each of the following nights until disembarkation, when the employee really slugged us on disembarkation morning - we had requested a 730AM wake-up call for Sydney, and guess what, the wake-up call came at 630AM instead. We immediately rang Guest Services to complain, and our 'friend' (still on duty) took the call and said sorry, there must have been a mistake which "unfortunately" just couldn't be accounted-for. Nice coincidence, on disembarkation morning by this same Guest Services employee. If this type of attitude has been inflicted on us by this particular employee, how many others of the 3,000-plus on this voyage (and past voyages) may have had the same treatment? 'Voyager' is a big ship with a large crew and to our thinking, there are certainly a few pockets of 'attitude' festering (e.g. the Table 291 experience - the waiter who thought it's tough to be rude to some old ladies on a nightly basis). Other passengers also mentioned to us they had experienced little instances of attitude being extended to them through the ship by various staff, but the prevailing thought was "What can you do". We do wish to make special mention of Guest Services Officers Carlin MacNichol and Bryan Kling, who were nothing short of exemplary in their customer-service.
We did write four letters of appreciation for various staff during our first week aboard, by the end of the voyage those staff advised they had not been told of these letters of appreciation. As passengers, we are constantly told that staff-promotion and internal corporate-acknowledgement are based on such passenger-feedback. One of the (senior) Managers within one of the Divisions concerned also advised that the 2 letters relating to his own staff had never been brought to his attention. We had left those letters with a (senior) Guest Services Officer. Make up your own mind about this. Attention is also drawn to a number of very recent past-passenger reviews in which poor and/or rude service aboard 'Voyager' were experienced without any apparent cause.
Cabin 1828 is well-situated at a jet-plane level (Deck 12) for this ship. The balcony itself is nicely-sized and the cabin is well-appointed and certainly spacious especially for its 'E3' category-rating (the 'E3' category is not available by Cruise Critic for these reviews as yet). Although located at the opposite end of 'Voyager' to the Dining Rooms and Windjammer Restaurant, this is also a great opportunity to walk-off one's meal. The various Deck 12 accommodations are situated immediately adjacent to the Spa services and the Deck 12 walking-track. The bed was very hard initially, but two layers of egg-shell cushioning corrected this nicely. The air-con was FREEZING and we were shivering at night (even on maximum warmth); this was the coldest cabin we have been in on any of the 27 different cruise-ships have sailed-on. Others at our dinner-table also commented on the freezing air-conditioning in their own cabins (including the Suite passengers from Georgia). At the Captains Corner on Day 13, Chief Engineer Stan Sunjic asked the attending passengers "Are any of you cold?" to a murmured "Yes" in reply. We would be very glad to recommend this cabin to any prospective passenger (allowing for middle of the night dance-parties, freezing cabin air-con and various crew-members - in our experience on this voyage - with attitude).
'Voyager' herself is in excellent shape and just about unrecognisable from when we sailed on her 14 months previously. A sensational makeover. Teams of roving cleaners are seen around the clock, always cleaning and polishing. We never saw anything adverse in the ship's presentation.
Possibly some passengers from this voyage may disagree with this review, and this is quite okay - Royal Caribbean is our favoured Line - this review is our own experience of this voyage with an excellent variety of ports and regions (total distance travelled was advised by Captain Ryan as in excess of 8,000 kilometres). We have sailed in Europe, the Middle East and North America with RCCL and have never had such an experience on thier vessels. Nobody is more disappointed than us in relation to the various incidents that we have related. Would we sail 'Royal' again? Yes (hence the overall '4' rating), but hopefully without the hiccups we have mentioned.