My first reaction to the Voyager of the Seas when boarding was simply one of shock and displeasure. I went in by the forward atrium and walked to the centerline to see the "Royal Promenade" stretching roughly 500 feet in front of me. Brightly lit from above, the promenade is topped with three decks of bay windows lining the sides. A gray brick-like sidewalk meanders the entire length, passing two bars, a 24 hour cafe, part of the casino and a (thankfully) few shops. There are 2 bright chrome bridges, one which passengers can clamber up and watch the scene below while standing with a mannequin that is forever fascinated by the crowds. On top of the 2nd bridge was an arched neon sign saying, "Royal Promenade." I was momentarily confused- was I actually onboard a ship or I had somehow wandered ashore again? Was this the Mall of America? Was this modern society? Was this what cruising has come to? Much to my surprise, however, I came to learn that the Voyager of the Seas experience goes deeper than what may be first apparent and that this ship provides an innovative and very exciting, energized way to travel by sea.
As everyone here knows, I am not, generally, a fan of the larger breed of mega-new builds. I dislike their whimsical and fanciful interiors, their miles of neon and the insistence on forced fun. I went onboard the Voyager of the Seas expecting to dislike it- I felt the ship would be different and innovative, for sure, but I thought I would be repulsed by the whole ship. Simply, she seemed too much to me- it was taking excess one more step too far. When I disembarked 48 hours later, however, I had come to really see the ship's appeal and even come to think that I would enjoy sailing on the ship for several days!
Quite simply, the Voyager delivers a different experience and ambiance than anything out there today. Grand Princess strikes me as simply a larger version of Dawn Princess- she is a conventional cruise ship with a few more dining and entertainment options. Also, despite her size, she strives to maintain as much as possible a small ship feel. Voyager, on the other hand, makes no pretensions about being large- she is huge and she wants everyone to know it. From the Royal Promenade to the 3 story dining room to the expansive upper deck space, the ship is full of grand sweeping vistas and cavernous spaces where you are constantly reminded how big she is.
What makes the Voyager so different? First must be the incredible variety of spaces and activities onboard. Just during the two days I was onboard, I was witness to Katarina Witt rehearsing her moves on the ice skating rink, getting a chance to see her interact and play with her fellow skaters as well as interact with the audience. I watched large crowds rock climb up the after end of the funnel and also enjoyed watching those who were watching the climbers. I saw a large and lush miniature golf course, complete with benches and statues. The full sized basketball court was constantly in use while the in line skating track was just being finished. I partook in a "New Year's Eve" celebration at midnight in the Royal Promenade, excitedly waiting around for the clock to strike with hundreds, if not thousands, of other fellow passengers.
Growing weary of the active life, I would search out private deck space-- and it was plentiful. The bow is completely open for passengers- there is a large observation deck/helicopter landing pad all the way forward where you can stand quite literally at the stem while you re-enact Titanic. There is also a covered space 30 feet aft as well as plenty of room to simply line the rails and feel the ship plowing ahead through the seas. (Be sure to turn around, however, and look at the attractive curved superstructure looming over you- a tremendous feeling of power is evident, especially at night.) I delighted in a section of the promenade that literally bulges out and you have to walk on part of the deck that hangs out over the water a good 10 feet beyond the hull-- enabling you to feel as if you are on a helicopter hovering alongside while you watch the waves crash against the hull with 11 decks of steel rising above you. The same view is found above the bridge up forward, enabling you to marvel from many different perches on just how big and amazing your ship is. This is where I would end my days, communing with the ship and the sea. There are also several layers of deck space open forward above the bridge, providing ample quiet spaces to avoid the people.
Should one ever want (or have enough time) to go inside you will find an incredible variety of spaces onboard. First is the Royal Promenade, which goes through different moods as the lights change and the day progresses. This space is truly the heart of the ship- a real Times Sq type meeting place. Like in any big city, the Royal Promenade has a unique feel at various times throughout the day- whether it be quiet in the morning or busy before dinner, this spaces comes alive with people. One felt compelled to walk through it just to see what was going on or to see who was there- it was truly a central thoroughfare for everyone onboard. Strolling along, you became part of a shipboard community that quickly developed as you stopped and talked to people enjoying a sidewalk cafe or listening to the man playing in the bar. With little projecting balconies at either end, it was delightful to simply stand and marvel at the space and the traffic. Street performers would come out and entertain at scheduled times and there was even a country music concert for 15 minutes! This space was always brimming.
Also, at either end of the Promenade was a centrum where one could take a glass elevator from below the Promenade to far above it. How wonderful it was to be above the Promenade in a downbound elevator and have the scene suddenly appear and watch the view change as you descend, finally dipping one or two decks beneath the Promenade. Also, the two story library and the business center overlooked from end the Royal Promenade through glass walls. For a space that I thought was degrading to ships, I soon learned that this space was the veritable pulse and heartbeat of the ship and the concept worked extremely well in reality.
In stunning contrast to the Promenade was the three storied dining room. With the possible exception of La Fontaine/the Odyssey on the Rembrandt, this room may very well be the most impressive room afloat in which to eat. Crowned by a magnificent and huge chandelier and flanked by window wall on either side, the room was technically three different dining rooms linked by a dramatic grand staircase (with orchestra platform/pit) at the after end. Each level has a slightly different feel- La Boheme on the top deck feels appropriately light and airy with gentle colors while the Carmen dining room on the bottom is decorated with a rich red carpet and (not quite) wooden chairs. The room has a slightly Baroque touch to it with the balcony levels undulating and curving around the chandelier. With excellent acoustics and many niches and private spots for tables, this room impresses but never dominates you- one marvels but is not intimidated. This is a very classically inspired room with wood veneer and dramatic entrances and is a definite knockout.
The Viking Crown Lounge was divided into at least 4 separate spaces onboard- a card room, a private reception room (that could be joined with the card room), the 19th hole bar and High Notes. High Notes was the largest of the sections and is the closest to what we think of a traditional Viking Crown Lounge. Tables and chairs lined the windows forward, commanding a startling view of the tiered pool deck, while the after half of the room was directed towards a stage where jazz players perform every night. Furthering the example of variety, there was the small Connoisseur Club, the ship's formal Cigar club. And this is just the beginning- I am not even mentioning the Champagne Bar, the Schooner Bar, the two story gym/spa, the kids section (as big as could possibly be wanted by any kid), Cleopatra's needle, the scary and very dark disco called the Vault, the Aquarium bar, the Portfofino restaurant, the Island Grill, the Windjammer Cafe, the Pig and Whistle, the Promenade Cafe, the Solarium, the sports bar, the casino, La Scala theatre, the Conference Center, the Peek a Boo bridge nor the wedding chapel! However, continuing to describe the simply astounding variety of spaces does not fully capture what makes Voyager so special. What truly makes her feel different is the ambiance and energy level onboard. Whether it be walking the Royal Promenade or dining in the extremely popular (and authentic looking) Johnny Rockets diner, there is always something going on. The ship simply energizes you with its amazing facilities and radical design. Royal Caribbean did not design a ship with block shapes and standard public spaces. Rather, it created a ship that is visually fascinating to look at and that allows for a constant stream of passenger flow. This is not your standard cookie cutter mold of a ship and it shows- some creative thought was actually put into her design. Except for the rare cases like the dining rooms, the decor is fairly typical RCI- however, this is a definite case of the overall effect exceeding the sum of all the parts. So much of the success of a voyage depends upon one's fellow passengers and the social atmosphere onboard. To this end Voyager's design does more to foster and create an instant community/atmosphere than any ship I've ever seen. Just how big is the ship? Well, you really have to force yourself to hit all the spots in one day. I kept thinking to myself how I had to go revisit certain areas, because despite constant walking and exploring I just hadn't made my way around to all areas more than once! I kept walking around the ship with a big smile on my face as I discovered some detail I hadn't seen before or revisited a spot that I had only been to once before. The ship feels more like a theme park with all the bustle and excitement rather than a ship, and there was a friend of mine onboard that I didn't even see during the entire cruise- I just know she was onboard because others had spoken with her!
It is also important to remember that for those who value only the ship experience, the Voyager offers many out of the way deck spaces where one might end up being the only one out on deck, simply listening to the sea while enjoying a warm Caribbean breeze. In fact, from the 'bulging promenade' to the bow, the Voyager offers some of the most unique sea perspectives around. Such is her size that she does afford spots to escape everything else, with the only reminder of being on such a huge ship is the sheer height of eye above the waterline.
Also, the ship really makes an effective use out of glass and mirrors. There are many places where you can stand in one part of the ship and look across a well or other such area and see people on the other side. Beneath the Viking Crown Lounge, for instance, is a large two deck high glass wall. One can be anywhere out on the open deck near the pool area, day or night, and see inside, watching the elevators zip up and down, spy on the people drinking in the Viking Crown Lounge or merely watch people climb the stairs. The same is true with the Royal Promenade which has many places to simply stand and look at people- this ship is a people watcher's dream and RCI should definitely get a web cam for the Royal Promenade! Windows were either huge affairs that effectively formed a wall or were gigantic Costa Style portholes that one could physically curl up in certain areas! This is not to say that I am suddenly a mega ship fan nor that I am giving up my preference for traditional, older ships. Not by any means. However, the Voyager of the Seas surprised me and quite simply excited me- it was a fun and fascinating ship to be onboard. Because of its incredible variety of spaces and for the energy and excitement level onboard, I would suggest this ship to any one over possibly any mass market ship out there currently- provided the destination is not terribly important and they are looking for a modern ship.
Quite simply, I walked away from the Voyager in awe of what I had just seen- the next major step in the development of the cruise experience. Much the way the Sovereign of the Seas marked a new area upon her 1988 debut, so too will the Voyager of the Seas mark the next area with her debut. Hopefully cruise ships won't get too much larger than Voyager, but I do think most ships can find something, however small, to learn from the Voyager of the Seas.Ben Lyons