At Sea Day #7 & Cruise Critique
Trip Start Apr 28, 2012
21Trip End May 15, 2012
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Got up about 11:55 a.m. and made plans with Atlanta Craig for lunch. We are just out of the Gulf of Aden, having cleared the northern coast of Somalia. I ventured to the library to put up yesterday’s blog posting, which I could not upload last night because the Internet was down. Even though the library is the Internet central of the ship (where a dozen or so terminals provide access for guests who don’t have their own computer with them), I was getting a weak Wi-Fi signal there, so I moved up to the Viking Crown Lounge on Deck 14
Downstairs at 1 p.m. to meet Atlanta Craig at the Carmen Dining Room for lunch. Scottish Craig happened to be passing by and joined us. I was disappointed to see everything on the menu was a repeat; there was nothing new at all among the selections. I ordered a calamari salad and some sort of cheese gnocchi. I helped myself to a big bowl of shrimp and smoked salmon from the salad bar, and that formed the main portion of my meal. The calamari salad was mediocre and I didn’t care for the taste of the gnocchi, which was cooked in a mushroom sauce (I don’t like the taste of mushrooms, and it was definitely noticeable in the sauce). For dessert, I had a chocolate/raspberry cake. It’s good, but it’s at least the third time I’ve had it, so it’s not quite as yummy the third time around.
I went up to the pool at 2:09 and started reading the Lonely Planet Antarctica guidebook. Antarctica has long been a dream vacation of mine, but I’ve never read the book since I’m always busy planning other trips. Atlanta Craig went on an Antarctica expedition four years ago, so talking with him about that inspired me to finally start reading the book even though an Antarctica cruise is not likely in my travel plans for the next couple years
After changing from my swimsuit to my gym shorts, I went up to Deck 12 and ran around the jogging track for the first time. The track is marked at 1/5 of a mile. I ran 25 laps (5 miles) in 43:18. I used my smartphone to record the jog on Runkeeper. I can’t wait to upload the data to see the funny map of me doing circles in the Indian Ocean! The ship was moving at 23 mph, and my jogging speed was about 7 mph, so my GPS clocked my speed at 30 mph when I was running on the starboard side toward the front of the ship and 16 mph when I was running on the port side toward the back of the ship.
Downstairs at 6:54 to shower, and now I’m writing this blog entry while I wait for dinnertime (in 57 minutes).
Now let me move on to my critique of this cruise, including my grades for each category and an overall rating:
My only problem with the cabin has been the refrigerator. The first one I had barely functioned; after the first day on board, I noticed my soda cans were still warm. I called maintenance and asked for a replacement refrigerator. None was delivered. I called again the next day and then finally a new one was put in my cabin. However, it hardly works better than the last one. The beverages are slightly colder, but nowhere near being cold enough to drink without ice cubes
Ah yes, one other problem to note with my cabin: There’s strangely no alarm clock provided. Odd for such a simple, basic item to be missing from your accommodation.
2. CABIN SERVICE: A-. My stateroom attendant is Pedro from the Philippines. He has cleaned the cabin twice per day and done an excellent job. The only problem I’ve had with Pedro is that he keeps moving the trash can away from my bed side, where I want it, to next to the front door. This has gone on for at least 10 days. Every time I come into my cabin after it’s been serviced, I’ve had to relocate the trash can to where I want it. Finally in the last couple days Pedro has apparently given up and stopped moving the trash can. This really shouldn’t be an issue. While there might be a standard cabin arrangement the stateroom attendants must follow when setting up a room on the first day of a cruise, once a guest gets into the cabin and places things where he wants, it’s simple courtesy not to keep moving them around.
Finally, the design of the buffet restaurant itself is lacking. Unlike every other cruiseship I’ve been on, the Windjammer Cafe does not have an outdoor seating area. On my prior cruises, I always liked to sit outside during nice weather and eat in the open air. Not having that option is a major negative on this vessel.
4. DINING ROOMS: C. For such a large ship, Voyager of the Seas sorely lacks dining options. There’s only three places to eat dinner: the main dining room, Johnny Rockets ($5 surcharge), or an Italian restaurant called Portofino ($20 surcharge). Other ships I’ve been on have offered many more restaurant options. Especially being on a long cruise (15 nights), the lack of dining choice is a big negative. I was also unhappy with my main dining room assignment. I requested a large table (8+ people) since I’m traveling solo and didn’t know anyone when I got on the ship. Instead I was first assigned to a table of four with a Hungarian couple and their 6-year-old daughter. I can’t stand children, so that was a big minus there. But then the Hungarians never showed up the first two nights, so I was left to dine alone. I later requested to be moved to another table and was placed at a table for 10 with five English folks (one couple plus a second couple and their adult son). If there were four other people assigned to the table, they never showed up or switched tables. One of the English couples has a strong accent and are not easy for me to understand. When the conversation got into England-specific things such as some soccer club looking for a new coach, I was totally lost and out of it.
I’m not a fan of the traditional dining style used by Royal Caribbean, where you are assigned to specific table for the entire cruise and eat at the same time every night. It’s boring, unless you happen to get placed with a table full of fabulously interesting people you can chat with for 15 nights in a row. I much prefer the Norwegian "Freestyle” dining where you show up with your party at any time during operating hours and are seated at your own table or grouped with others to form a large table. There’s also a greater selection of restaurants to choose from, as noted above. To its credit, Royal Caribbean does offer this type of dining it dubs “My Time Dining.” However, being new to Royal, I wasn’t familiar with this and when I tried to change to My Time after learning about it, I was told there was no availability. Fortunately another solo traveler on board, Craig of Atlanta, is registered for My Time Dining and I’ve been able to piggyback off him to be admitted into that dining room (Deck 5) on several nights when we’ve met for dinner.
The food in the main dining rooms has been average. There’s not as much variety on the menu as I’d like, and some cuisines are strangely absent from the offerings (for instance, there hasn’t been a single Chinese dish on any menu I’ve seen despite the presence of a good number of guests from China, not to mention lots of dining-room staff from that most-populous nation). Also, despite the fact this is a cruised through the Arabian world, there’s been far too few Middle Eastern offerings, though one lunch I did enjoy some lamb kebobs.
Speaking of lunch, I’ve mostly enjoyed the main dining room lunch service, skipping the lackluster buffet. The salad bar is outstanding and there’s staff to mix your salad with dressing in a stainless-steel bowl and then present it to you in an oversized white bowl. Lunch service is like “My Time Dining” – you show up with your group and are seated as you come in; no fixed tables. The stated goal is to serve your lunch in 30 minutes and while I have not been running my stopwatch, I believe this has been met more times than not. The service is certainly more speedier than during dinner, which can sometimes drag on. My only complaint about the lunch service has already been noted above – the menu repetition, which perhaps is hard to avoid on a 15-night sailing where we have not stopped at any major port to reprovision (unless we took on some fresh food in Alexandria, Egypt, but that is uncertain).
5. SHORE EXCURSIONS: B+. I took four shore excursions on this cruise, which I detailed in previous blog postings – Giza, Alexandria, and Luxor in Egypt and Petra in Jordan. The excursions were well organized and ran on schedule except for Giza, which postponed our lunch until 4:50 p.m. and then got us back to the ship more than an hour late. Fortunately that tardiness didn’t matter since we were spending the night in port.
The four tour guides were outstanding. If anything, they talked too much and provided too much detailed information; more than anyone could possibly remember. The buses were all comfortable with functioning and clean on-board toilets. Water bottles were available on each buses and were actually kept chilled on a couple of them. One or two buses also had cold Cokes.
My only major gripe about the shore excursions is the high prices. But given the long distances traveled on three of the tours (all but Alexandria) and the number of sights we visited where our admission was included, I won’t whine too loudly about the cost because the value was pretty good for what we got. The sights were amazing; some of the best I’ve seen anywhere in the 87 countries I’ve now visited.
6. CRUISE NEWSLETTER: D-. I’m tempted to give the “Cruise Compass” and its supplemental “Cruise Specials and More” an F, save for the fact that it did come out every night. That’s about the only praise I can give it. Bear in mind here that I am a professional writer and editor, so my standards for written communications are quite high. Royal Caribbean miserably failed to meet those standards.
I’ve collected a few examples of how bad the Cruise Compass has been. I won’t note every blunder because you would be reading for pages and pages. Here’s a sample of the comedy of errors and poor writing/editing/content:
A. Headline = “FANTASTIC LIQUOR DEALS.” Text below = “A fantastic of both designer and fine watches are available at the Shops Onboard watch shop. Brands such as Omega, Tag Heure, Tissot, Citizen, Bulova, Michael Kors, Fossil, and many many more all with great savings of up to 15% off.” (This copy ran in several issues of Cruise Specials and More.)
B. One example of wholly incorrect information appeared several times, a “Today’s Tip” that “Every night you’ll be greeted by a different towel animal in your stateroom.” In fact, I’ve had towel animals greet me four or four times out of the 13 days so far.
C. Staff’s ignorance of what’s in the newsletter: One issue advised any guest with a flight out of Dubai before 11 a.m. on arrival day to notify the Guest Relations Desk. When I phoned that desk, the guy answering the phone had no idea what I was talking about when I told him I was notifying him of my 10:30 outbound flight. He put me on hold for several minutes, then said a form would be sent to my stateroom to fill out. No form was ever delivered.
D. One feature on the Compass’ front page is a box containing the “Crew Fun Fact” of the day. This might be interesting if it weren’t for the fact that darn near every day it’s the same meaningless thing: “By now, you’ve made your way through the ship and found plenty of ways to spend your day. But how does the crew pass their free time? Turns out there’s a whole other world in the lower decks – complete with a gym, bar, Internet cafe, and cafeteria.”
E. The weather forecast was really off the first day or two of the cruise, when the newsletter forecasted it would be 85º and it was more like 65º. Later several days have appeared with the exact same forecast: 82º with 54% humidity. I know there’s not much temperature variation in the tropics, but trust me it’s been hotter than 82º the last few days and hard to believe the forecast could be the exact same for three or four days in a row.
F. One day the Cruise Compass stated the dinner dress suggestion was “Formal.” This was the day after we had the first formal night. I’ve never heard of two formal nights in a row, so I called Guest Relations and was told, “Oh no, that was an error. It’s casual dress tonight.”
G. A couple times at the start of our cruise, there was some note how about “during our trans-Atlantic crossing, we might experience intermittent satellite outages that could affect TV, Internet, and phone service.” This note was clearly leftover type from the last Voyager cruise, which had sailed trans-Atlantic from New Orleans to Barcelona.
H. Locations for events were sometimes misreferenced. For example, stating a digital camera seminar would occur at the “Schooner Bar, Deck 3.” The bar is actually on Deck 4.
I. Cruise Specials and More was extremely repetitive, often noting the same ads for the spa, video arcade, shore excursions, art gallery, casino, photo gallery, and other paid goods and services day after day.
Royal Caribbean really needs to hire a good editor to polish up the Cruise Compass! If only I knew one in the market for a new job….
7. ACTIVITIES & SHOWS: No Grade. I’m not big on activities and shows on board cruiseships. I cruise to visit new places and relax. I heard some other passengers complaining about the limited number of activities on the ship, but the daily schedule in the Cruise Compass listed dozens of events, so I’m not sure that’s a valid criticism. I did attend the ice show, which was absolutely fantastic.
8. LOCATION INFORMATION: A. Channel 40 on the TV always displayed a map showing our current position along with our GPS coordinates, course, speed, wind, time, sunrise, sunset, distance cruised, and so on. Outstanding information for a geography geek like me who always loves to know precisely where we are.
9. INTERNET ACCESS: C. Using the wireless Internet on the ship is extremely expensive at 65 cents per minute, unless you buy a package of minutes. I bought the 250-minute package for $100. That’s 40 cents per minute – still a very hefty fee for getting online. To make it worse, the Internet connection was down about 40% of the time I tried to update my blog. Other times it was very slow, and my precious expensive minutes ticked away while simple pages loaded. One can only hope that satellite costs will come down over time and the Internet will become more affordable while cruising. For most cruises, I would never pay to use the onboard Wi-Fi, but this cruise was so long and I was busy touring all the time while we were in port, so I didn’t have a single chance to use Wi-Fi on land.
10. THE SHIP: B-. Voyager of the Seas is an older ship, having sailed since 1999. Overall the ship pretty well laid and easy to navigate, but there are some bizarre exceptions such as there being no access on Deck 3 between the front and rear elevators/stairs, so if you are in the Carmen Dining Room and want to get to the ice rink, you have to walk upstairs to Deck 4, over, and then down. I noted earlier the lack of outdoor seating at the buffet. There is a bridge viewing window on Deck 11 forward, but this is closed at night.
There’s an incredible amount of heavy maintenance work going on during this repositioning sailing. Every night I come across workers ripping out carpet in the public areas and laying down new ones. One of the promenade shops has been closed for renovation, and there have been certain areas of the ship blocked off during certain days while work goes on. It’s nice to see Royal Caribbean updating the ship, but the work has been very visible and not always well tended to. For example, I’ve seen pieces of carpet all over the place sometimes after getting off the elevator and nobody is around to finish the work or clean up. This has been only a minor annoyance, and considering this cruise was deeply discounted, I don’t feel so bad about it. Nonetheless, it’s not what you’d expect while on a cruise vacation.
11. POOLS: B. A nice variety of pools with two in the main area of Deck 11 and one adults-only pool in the solarium. Four hot-tubs in the main area and two in the solarium. At least one pool and hot-tub has been open at night. My one gripe about the pools involves the towel service. I’ve never seen this on any other ship, but Royal Caribbean forces you to wait in line to get a pool towel from a kiosk staffed by two employees. Your SeaPass card is swiped to record that you got a pool towel. Every time you want a fresh towel, you have to stand in line again and go through this process to record that you turned in your towel and were issued a new one. All of this so Royal can bill you $20 per any unreturned towel. Seriously? Absurd. Towels should be available from shelves around the pool area and returned to laundry bins. It is a waste of everyone’s time to check towel in and out. The towel aren’t very nice; I don’t think many people are going to steal them! I never endured this towel line misery; I always grabbed towels from the gym, where they are freely available, and scooped up unguarded towels at night.
OVERALL GRADE: C. I’ve enjoyed my cruise vacation aboard Voyager of the Seas, but the experience has been very much average. I’ve had several frequent Royal Caribbean sailors tell me this cruise has been less impressive than others they’ve on. One couple who had been on 17 Royal cruises told me this was “by far the worst.” The man told me: “You should give them another try.”
Perhaps I will. But based on this experience, I definitely prefer Celebrity and Norwegian. My next cruise will be on Princess, another new line to experience. I hope that voyage will score higher and the same goes for if I do another Royal Caribbean cruise in the future.