This was our third westbound crossing on the Voyager so this review will mostly deal with the shipboard experience since we had been to all the ports before. I'll be glad to answer any questions about the ports from previous cruises. We are in our mid-60's and have done over 30 cruises over the years.
We flew in a day early and stayed at the Hotel Continental where many cruisers were staying both for our voyage and two or three other ships that were in port. While the hotel is certainly not the Four Seasons, it is clean, reasonably priced (95 euro), convenient (on Las Ramblas), easy to get to from the airport via a bus, free food, wine, beer, etc., and about a 17 euro taxi ride to the pier. The rooms are small with an elevator about the size of a telephone booth but it works. Decorating is inspired by hot pink and florals. They have a "sister" hotel a couple of blocks away from Las Ramblas that is a little nicer but is around 35 euro more.
Embarkation was quick and easy. They have a duty free shop AFTER you put your carry-ons through the scanner which sells alcohol. I had heard that another check of bags would be made prior to getting on the ship but it wasn't in our case.
We have been getting E1/E2 cabins for several cruises. While we prefer Deck 6 forward close to the elevators, this cabin was on Deck 7. Good was that our balcony has glass below the railing while on Deck 6, they are steel. The glass allows a little more light into the cabin. We prefer Deck 6 forward because it is only one deck straight down to the Promenade Cafe, Cleopatra's Needle, and the Promenade business. It is two decks straight down to the Schooner Bar, casino, and theater balcony. Hence, we can avoid using the elevators except to go up to the Windjammer and pool deck. I like being close to the theater because if I need to use Ladies after the show I can get to the cabin quickly via the stairs and not have to wait on an elevator. The downside is that you walk the length of the ship to get to the feeding troughs. Hopefully, it will walk off some calories. Being on Deck 7, I found I was using the elevators more. Going down, not a problem: but, if I was on Deck 4, then I would take them to get back up to Deck 7. We have never been disturbed by noise from the elevators or the passengers using them. While on the deck plan it looks like they are right in front of your door, they really are "around the corner."
Our cabin steward, Ronaldo, introduced himself and I gave him my "punch" list of requests. Empty the refrigerator, give us two Compass a day, keep my thermo cooler in the shower iced down daily, and see if he could find an egg crate for us. All were fulfilled before we turned in for the night.
Cabin was in pretty good shape. The sofa had been recovered which was good—you could have grown crops on the last one we had in the fall of 2008. There was a big gouge on the bathroom door which didn't bother us but I was mildly concerned they may think we had done it. Apparently not because Ronaldo had them repair it the second day. They gave it a band-aid treatment putting some paper over it. There were splatters of paint on the glass of our balcony but nothing too great.
The balcony walls were solid on both sides. In the past, our balconies have been a wall up one side and a partition on the other side. I liked this because, as one of those horrible smokers, I felt it kept smoke from "drifting" over to the neighboring balconies a little bit. Still, I always look at the neighboring balconies before lighting up to make sure they are empty. The walls gave us a little more privacy as you really had to lean over the railing to see on the next balcony.
Our cabin steward was one of the best we have had. The first week, if he saw us coming down the hall he would hustle to our door and open it for us which hasn't happened in the recent past on our cruises. The second week, though, this didn't happen. He always greeted us by name and asked if everything was o.k. The only "complaint" I had was that he would service the cabin and collect the ice bucket but not return it until around 1:30 when he was replacing all of them in the cabins. So, if we wanted to nap, we knew not to do it until he had returned our ice bucket because there would be a knock on the door. I guess we could have put the "do not disturb" sign out but then we would miss the ice refill as he would be going off duty for the afternoon.
The main "complaint" I had about the cabin was that the bed lights were over the headboard rather than to the side of the bed which they have been on previous cruises so sometimes it was awkward to read in bed. I noticed there was no stationery or pens in the desk drawer. Cost cutting?? Maybe Ronaldo didn't replace them from the previous occupant.
We were at late seating in the Carmen dining room at a table for ten. Our Diamond Plus companion is solo, so we had an empty seat. Our dining companions were just great and we had a wonderful time with them. Our travel companion did not join us for dinner after the first night but ate in the Windjammer so we basically had a table of eight. Our waiter and assistant waiter were not the best we have had but far from the worst. They served us in a timely manner, the food was hot, what we ordered and how we ordered it. I was impressed that he took the women's orders first and served the women first. I haven't seen that in quite a few cruises. I felt like the portions were smaller than in the past but never left the table hungry.
Sorry to say, the food has not improved. Selections are limited. If you like chicken, salmon, pasta, then you will be happy. They combine the "always available" with the entrees so it looks like you have more selection than you do since half of the choices are "always available."
We ate breakfast every morning in the main dining room. They have an "express buffet" set up where they had basics like eggs, bacon, sausage, hash browns, fruit, Danish, cereal, cold cuts. Seated, they came around promptly with coffee and took juice orders then the waiter came to take the breakfast order. We would order any hot items we wanted like pancakes, French toast, eggs benedict, omelet, oatmeal (no waffles), and then go to the buffet for "starters" like cereal and fruit. By the time we finished that, the rest of the meal arrived. If you don't want to get your own cereal, etc., they would bring it to you. One thing I liked about Royal vs. other lines was that the bacon was crisp--not still going "oink"--and if you tried to get one or two strips, it all stuck together so you ended up with a plate full like on other lines. However, on this cruise, it wasn't always so. I would get my bacon at the buffet where I could "pick and choose" but still had a problem finding crisp and not a bunch of it stuck together, some crisp and most not. Even if I ordered it from the waiter and asked for crisp, it did not always come that way.
We enjoyed meeting other people at our table and being served without having to run to different "stations" while one person guarded the table like you do in the Windjammer. If you are not a social person in the morning, there were tables for two available. As a Diamond member, we were told in our welcome letter we could be served in the Seville dining room where they had full service and upgraded coffee available for free. Not being a coffee drinker, this did not appeal to me but I did peek in there and it was not set up for dining—in fact had computer paper boxes stacked around the perimeter. So I asked where the Diamond dining was and told they set off a section in the MDR for it. I didn't investigate that so I can't comment on it.
We ate all our lunches in the Windjammer. I am a soup, sandwich, dessert person; husband likes to hunker down with a plate full of pasta or ribs so this was a happy medium. We never had trouble getting a table and they were pretty good about cleaning them and getting drinks if you asked. My friend that ate dinners in the Windjammer said the selection there was not nearly as good as on past cruises in the evening.
In the afternoons at 3:00 they had tea/snack time. Clotted cream, scones, sandwiches with the crust cut off, etc. for the tea sippers. In the back, husband was delighted to find nachos and tacos to tide him over until our late dinner seating.
The Promenade Cafe is open 24 hours with pastries in the morning followed by sandwiches, pizza, cookies and desserts in the afternoon and evenings. The first couple of days there was no iced tea available there but I guess some Texans 'splained to them about the necessity of iced tea being available 24/7. The only other place to get iced tea would be the WJ which didn't put it out until 11:30 and closed at 9:00 p.m. Lemonade was, also, set up which hasn't been done on our previous cruises.. They had coffee, tea, hot chocolate there 24/7. However, the machines were leaking and it was constantly wet around them no matter how fast they mopped. I saw many near falls from people "skating" on the water. Hopefully, they have fixed it.
We passed on Johnny Rockets since they took the BOGO coupon out of the booklet. We did not go to Portofino's this time either. They do not have a Chops on the Voyager.
Our Cruise Direction was Mike Szwajkowaski (I learned how to spell it sure it would get me extra points on trivia—it didn't) and one of the best we have had. He was very approachable around the ship, hosted a Q&A session, and hosted the marathon trivia.
I didn't feel like the entertainment was as good as we have had in the past. The production show had minimal sets—mostly projection backgrounds on a screen. We went to a few of them and nothing stands out as particularly great We did not do the ice show this time as we have seen it twice before. We discovered that seats in the balcony on the sides do not have a full view of the stage. We never had any problems finding a seat as the shows were not that crowded—even the production shows.
We are trivia players and play just about every time they schedule one. Things I noticed this time were that the prizes were much better—not just the key chains, water wallets, and pens but umbrellas, caps, Ipod holders, passport holders, etc. They had a marathon trivia on sea days where the scores are cumulative. The first couple of days, they let us grade our own papers which kinda raised my eyebrows. Then we traded papers. The team that had high scores the first two days which raised even more suspicion still cleaned our clock after we traded papers. No doubt they were SMART!!!!!! They got comped a dinner at Portofino's from our CD Mike.
For Bingo you could buy one card for $22 or three cards for $30+ (can't remember the exact amount). No hand helds were being rented so that sorta evened the playing field for those that wanted to play but didn't want to pay rental for them which was, on past cruises, twice the price with three or four times more "cards" to play. In the past, the prizes have been based on how many played. However, on this cruise they had set prizes like $100 for the first game, $110 for the second, etc (can't remember the exact numbers) which I believe I heard was because of low participation.
Generally on port days, there were no activities scheduled on board after 10:30 until around 4:00 p.m. other than movies in the screening room. I did see in the Compass they had children's activities scheduled, though.
Many of the directional lights were out so you had to depend on "ding" for up and "ding ding" for down and guess which elevator was coming and missing a few when you guessed wrong. The lights for calling the elevator did not work on a few so you wondered if it was being called or not. Fortunately, you could look on the other side of the bank and if the light was on. Some lights did not light up inside of the elevator to indicate what floor you were on or behind a button you pushed for your floor. I felt like more elevators than usual were "out of order" off and on. Overall, there did not seem to be a long wait for them other than when you expect it around dinner time, show letting out, and disembarkation in port. Hint: When coming in from port, walk by the first bank of elevators and go to the far bank behind them. It looks like you are going into a crew area but you aren't and there is seldom a wait for one there. Elevators definitely need attention.
Our cruise critic group scheduled a group slot pull. The fellow in charge of it spoke with the casino manager who was the most uncooperative one he has ever run into having set these up numerous times. We had $2,000 to gamble and we are talking 3:00 p.m.—not one of your high traffic times. He asked for some "giveaways" for the players. No. He asked if machines could be set aside for us so we wouldn't be blocking traffic and have room for everyone to watch the machine. No. Well we could if we wanted to pay the casino $6 for every $20 we were feeding into the machine or something like that. So, we divided up into five groups of 20 and gambled "on our own." Four groups lost all their money (but had good entertainment) and one group actually came out ahead. As a stockholder, I am a little miffed that the manager would not cooperate more to bring in $2,000 in revenue during a slow period.
I am a big gambler. Penny slots. One penny at a time—100 pulls per dollar. In the past, I have taken my dollar down and played for an hour or so with it. Not this time. I was lucky to get 20 minutes for my dollar. I like the Luau one by the entrance to the Schooner Bar where you get 15 bonus pulls if you get three Tikis. I'd get enough to keep me going for an hour from it. This time, I wasn't getting three Tiki's very often. So, for the fun of it, I started counting how many pulls until I got the bonus. The first time it took 80 pulls and that was about average for the first week. Then, on the second week, more and more pulls needed until I got up to 350 pulls towards the end. Whereas in the past you have to bird dog a seat at the penny slots, this time there were empty ones a lot of time. I think other people came to the same realization I did that those machines were just not paying. I'd see people sit down, feed $20 into the machine, play 15 cents at a time and be pulling another $20 out in about ten minutes. In fact, I didn't see as many people as in the past playing the slots anywhere in the casino.
The Black Jack table had a $6 minimum which I think is to encourage you to play $5 on the game and put $1 on the little circle that if you get black jack you can spin a wheel for more money. Those odds rank right up there with buying insurance when the dealer has an ace showing. It, also, might be to encourage you to bet two $5 chips instead of a $5 and a $1 to meet the minimum. What was interesting was in the Compass a couple of times there was a coupon for black jack for $5 match play yet the minimum was $6. I never investigated how that worked out but guess you put $6 plus the coupon down and if you won, the coupon was paid at $5. Usually the black jack $5 table was standing room only while the $10, $25 table dealers were picking their fingernails waiting for customers. There were three roulette tables but only one was in use most of the time and then with one or two players. I'm not sure if they had a craps table. If they did, they were mighty quiet and craps players aren't quiet (lol).
In the past, on formal nights, the casino has been non-smoking but that was not done on this cruise.
ODDS AND ENDS
There was a multitude of hand sanitizers both going into the dining areas and around the ship. They had crew members stationed at the doors of the dining room and it was very difficult to get by them without getting a squirt. You were reminded often that hand washing with hot water was the best thing to do. However, I noticed in the public bathrooms, there wasn't hot water (lol). In the past, I never saw a hand sanitizer on the ship with the exception of one time when we were in port they squirted us reboarding. Later we heard that another ship in port had had a breakout of the virus and they thought we might have come in contact with them. When asked why there were no sanitizers around the ship, the Captain at a Q&A session on a previous sailing said it was because they weren't that effective, hand washing was the best solution, and people were not washing their hands before meals relying on the sanitizers.
On the tables in the Windjammer was a little sign saying that card/game players were welcome to use the Magic Flute dining room for their games and to please not tie up tables in the Windjammer. Hence, I did not see tables being used for anything other than eating during the cruise. Good move, Royal Caribbean.
Muster drill was held on deck but we did not have to take our life jackets. Good move, Royal Caribbean.
We are Diamond but our traveling companion is Diamond Plus. He called our cabin to tell me that his welcome letter along with his CL key said that Diamonds were welcome in the CL which was located in Cloud Nine next to High Notes for happy hour. Our welcome letter did not state that and directed us to Cleopatra's for happy hour and we were not given a CL key. So, I told him to check it out that night and let me know which was correct. He went to the Concierge Lounge for happy hour and reported it was utter chaos. Only one person mixing drinks, no place to sit, very crowded, and the concierge blew him off when he asked if they could stock non-alcoholic beer saying it was "not on the list." However, the following night he reported that it was not crowded, very nice appetizers, more servers, and he got his non-alcoholic beer because a server went over to the High Notes bar and got it for him. He said that the server made sure there was his beer there every night for him. Goodbye tip to concierge, hello tips for the servers. We were wondering if some Diamonds "crashed" the first night having gotten the same message he conveyed to me from the Diamond Plus welcome letter. He said the concierge told him there were 120 Diamond Pluses on the ship. Our friend said about 40 or so were in the lounge in the evenings.
There was a Diamond Lounge in Cleopatra's with free wine, champagne, soft drinks, 25% off other drinks, and music No appetizers, though. It was very lively and well attended. In fact, many Diamond + went down there in spite of having to pay for their drinks to be with their Diamond friends and saying it was more fun.
Prior to this cruise, I had been on four trans-Atlantics as Platinum or better. However, this was the first time there was a luncheon for Platinum/Diamond members on a cruise I was on. In the past, it has been a special ice show. The luncheon was outstanding. The best food on the whole cruise along with plenty of wine. At our table was an officer in charge of inventory (non-food) so we had very interesting conversations going.
For the first time, I noticed the library books were locked and only unlocked when the librarian was there. Then after a few days, they weren't locked up. The library is pretty worthless at best so bring your own reading material. If you get desperate, you can "dumpster dive" for returned books in the return box. I heard there was an exchange shelf set up somewhere in the library but didn't see it or look for it.
We made an appointment with the Loyalty Ambassador to book a fall AOS trans-Atlantic for November 2010. Signing up in the appointment book has been like an appointment with the doctor—a license to wait. In hopes of avoiding a long wait past my appointment time, I signed up for the first appointment in the afternoon. We arrived 15 minutes early only to find the LA dealing with someone—most likely a walk up he thought would only take a short time. After waiting ½ an hour seeing that the present customer was not getting close to completing his business with each of his questions being answered bringing forth two more questions, it became necessary to reschedule as we had somewhere we needed to be at 2:00. I took the first appointment of the day and got there half an hour early to preclude anyone else getting in before me and was taken promptly.
As I mentioned before, we did not do anything in the ports other than get off and find an internet cafe. In Tenerife, we met with some friends we have cruised with several times who were in port on a Celebrity ship. That was the highlight of our port adventures.
A couple of times the port authority held us up and the Captain added time to our port stay to compensate for it.
Another thing that Royal did that was new was have those with their excursions get off on a different gangplank than those without them. This really speeded things up for those that chose to go out on their own. Good move, Royal Caribbean!
We did not get our invitation to the M&M in our cabin. I knew where and when and turned up. I got my favor (note pad) and a ticket for the raffle drawings--no win :(. I think the reason was because after I signed up, the list was deleted because we went from a lot being signed up to only 20 signed up overnight. There was a posting on the site that said if you had signed up, you didn't need to sign up again, they had a record. Guess not.
The ever popular art auctions were there. This time, though, no free champagne every time. I don't go to them or buy from them so I can't comment any further. I heard the no champagne complaints from others.
The worst part about trans-Atlantics is the lack of communication from the shore. We could be in WW3 and not know it. They had Fox butit was mostly repeats from days before with a little ticker across the bottom of the screen with current news--one word at a time--on a non-flat screen TV, I might add. As for sports, don't even think about it. A San Diego/Oakland football game from September was shown repeatedly. I was ready to go down to the sports bar and start taking Oakland and points. All the other sports being shown had long since been played. Lots of soccer. Very frustrating for college football fans when Alabama/Florida and Texas/Nebraska games were being played for conference championships. Husband wandered the Promenade the next morning looking for someone with a computer to find out how they turned out. Movies were past their prime, some waaaaaay past their prime. We enjoyed some classic John Wayne ones, though. This is especially frustrating since in a cost cutting measure they don't have the NY Times thingee anymore.
When I woke up and saw the fog, I said a silent prayer the ship was moving. It was, slowly. We self-disembarked which was to commence at 7:30. Because of the fog slightly delaying our arrival, it didn't start until about 8:00. Once it got going, though, it was quick even though there were people "cutting" in line from the sides rather than going to the end of the line. I was happy to see that employees inside the terminal directed those that were not self-disembarking passengers and got into the self-disembarkation line to step aside and let us off. They were identified by colored luggage tags on their carry-ons (tags issued for suitcases being taken off the ship) which were not given to those of us self-disembarking. The only "snag" was if you did not have "one hand free," you could not use the escalator and had to take an elevator to get down to the first floor. Needless to say, the elevator had a wait. There are steps to the left of the elevator which we took. We were through immigration and customs and outside the terminal by 8:20.
Things did not go so well for others, though. There were not enough custom agents to handle the influx of Europeans traditionally on a trans-Atlantic as well as returning Americans so the back-up got pretty bad. I heard the last passenger got off the ship at 3:30. In the meantime, people were arriving to get on the ship. The terminal is not that great even if things go right as far as loading and unloading goes and this made it really bad. People couldn't park because parking spots were being taken up by people who hadn't left the ship. They couldn't process people on the ship until people were off the ship. The fog was as bad as it ever gets down here. Bottom line, the ship was in port until Tuesday afternoon due to the fog.
Overall, a great cruise as usual and we're ready to do it again.
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