Royal Caribbean International (RCI) Voyager of the Seas, built in 1999, sailed from the Kvaerner Masa Ship Yard in Turku, Finland as the largest cruise ship afloat. The Voyager and her sister ships, the Explorer, Adventure, Navigator and Mariner jointly held this honored title until the Queen Mary II arrived in January 2004. Now RCI will reclaim the title in May 2006 when the first of the new "Ultra Voyager Class" comes on line as the Freedom of the Seas at 160,000 gross tons. It's hard to believe that such large ships will soon be almost common place.
In just five years, all five Voyager Class ships have been completed and are now amazing cruisers on a weekly basis. Of course, boarding a vessel with such dimensions of 142,000 gross tonnage, 1,021 feet in length, a beam of 157.5 feet, with a draft of only 29 feet and a cruising speed of 22 knots will never seem "common place." However, to the 3,114 (double occupancy) passengers who weekly sail aboard the Voyager, or anyone of her sister ships, it still remains an extraordinary sea going experience. The Voyager was appropriately christened by figure skating star Katerina Witt (twice Olympic gold), since it is the first ship with an ice-skating rink. Other innovative highlights of these ships are the rock climbing wall, the in-line skating track, a sports court for volleyball or basketball and most impressive is the inside four deck high Royal Promenade, stretching like a city block between the forward and aft Centrums, lined with shops, bars and a cafe`, here cruisers can stroll, watch jugglers or a parade, enjoy an ice cream, coffee or beer seated in the pub.
Her size and amenities made her first Captain Svein Pettersen dub her "A city at sea." When we first sailed on her in January 2000, Captain Nyseter was equally in awe of the Voyager. Her present Captain Erik Tengelsen is also enamored of this "Grand Dowager" the Voyager of the Seas. Captain Tengelsen of Oslo, Norway is one of those "pure" sailors who worked his way up through the ranks and possesses a deep knowledge of both ships and sea ports of the world. His pride in the Voyager is evident in his discussions of the latest naval engineering features such as the advanced navigation technology and the Azipods which allow sideways maneuverability of these "behemoths." Tengelsen is both a scholar of ships and a fine gentleman captain: Throughout this cruise we heard many compliments on the ship's smooth sailing, which he casually attributed to her size. However, we know he is an excellent Master.
EMBARKATION A Saturday or Sunday departure from Miami is a Godsend, since traffic is minimal. We arrived at the Port of Miami at noon and as Crown & Anchor Diamond members had priority check-in and were on board by 12:30pm. We heard passengers lamenting about late boarding; however, the boarding time listed on the cruise schedule is 2:00pm; therefore, most passengers actually boarded early. Repeat cruisers on RCI will enjoy the many benefits of the Crown & Anchor Society (depending on the membership level) : Priority boarding and debarkation, valuable coupons for drinks, souvenirs, Bingo and Casino, discounts at the Health Spa and shops, the use of the Concierge Lounge, upgrades and private cocktail parties, etc. These can all be explained by the Loyalty Ambassadors on board. We met with L.A. Ruth Ranola an energetic and upbeat lady, who answered our many questions about future cruises.
THE SHIP The Voyager is in excellent condition and has held up well under a weekly onslaught of between 3000 to 3500 passengers. Now in her sixth year, there are only minor vestiges of wear and tear, mostly in upholstery and carpeting. Though not as pristine as when we first sailed on her, she is still elegant with some patina! Hotel Director Richard Nentwich, Food & Beverage Manager Michael Ochmann and Marketing & Revenue Manager Michael Gillespie, run a smooth ship: A ship which displays art worth over $12 million.
Deck 1. It holds the Medical Facilities and Tender Stations.
Deck 2. It has the Conference Center forward and staterooms midship.
Deck 3. The Carmen Dining Room is located aft. This is a three tier gold and white operatic theme restaurant, with an extraordinary Kalmar Austrian Crystal Chandelier as the focal point. Next is the Art and Photo Gallery, with a fine collection of celebrity photos including those by renown photographers such as Stern, Ritts, D'Orazio, and Rolston. The base of Larry Kirkland's Centrum Mobile "The Dancer & the Tutu" is located here. Entrances to Studio B, and the Ice Center are midship, near a display of several antique radios (Crosley and Atwater Kent) depicting a history of broadcasting. Also here is the Vault Nightclub with all chrome and steel walls evoking the image of a bank vault minimally decorated with primary colors. Forward is the entrance to the main level of La Scala Theatre.
Deck 4. Aft is La Boheme dining Room, then the Aquarium Bar with its walls of natural coral and a fine collection of tropical fish. This is a nice relaxing place to sit. Midship is the the Casino Royale featuring a stylized dancer in Top Hat & Tails and a Flapper from the Roaring Twenties and songs of the same period: "High Society," "Stepping Out," "Putting on the Ritz," and "Ain't We got Fun." Then there is the upper level of the Vault with its palm print entrance panel. Nearby is the Schooner Bar with its naval memorabilia and its smell of creosote soaked ropes. Forward is the entrance to the balcony of the five deck tall La Scala Theatre. It has very comfortable rose colored seats, several poles, but still with an excellent view of the stage from most seats. Its beauty lies in its simplicity and dramatic crystal beaded geometric curtain. Near the entrance is Lorenzini's "Soubrette Fin di Siecle" a la Streisand in "Hello Dolly." It is a larger than life wooden marionette, a nice touch.
Deck 5. Here is the Royal Promenade, a concept which distinguishes the Voyager Class from all others. Its four deck height allows for inside cabins to have windows overlooking a beautiful street scene: punctuated throughout the cruise with parades, strolling musicians and comedic actors. Voyager's "Over the Centuries" theme can be seen here in the eclectic art work representing many centuries and cultures. At one end of the Promenade is Cleopatra's Needle (a copy of the famous Egyptian Obelisk now in London). Beyond the obelisk is a vestibule lined with huge Pharaoh statues and other Egyptian artifacts. The art representing many centuries from ancient to modern --- leads passengers on a veritable voyage through time. An eye catcher on the Promenade is an antique red Morgan roadster (donated by RCI's CEO Richard D. Fain). A one week cruise is not enough to see and admire it all.
The Royal Promenade has the Cafe` Promenade (serving Seattle's Best Coffee and Ben & Jerry's ice cream), a real pub "Pig and Whistle," a General Store, Logo Shops, Perfume and Jewelry Shops, the Champagne Bar, the Scoreboard Bar and a cigar Connoisseur Club (go out the back door for access to the Forward Observation Point & Helicopter Pad). Also on Deck 5 are the Guest Relations and Tour Desks. Each end of the Promenade has an atrium (Centrum) and sets of elevators. All the way aft is the top balcony of the Dining Room --- The Magic Flute. Here is the best view of the fantastic chandelier --- from above the delicate chains of crystals and its golden illumination are more fully appreciated.
Deck 6, 7, 8, 9, and 10 are mostly staterooms. On Deck 6, adjacent to the rear elevators, are the Business Services and the Loyalty Ambassador's desk. On Deck 7 in the same area is the Library. On Deck 8 is the Online Computer Services. On Deck 9 is the Concierge Club overseen by the very capable Teresa Jamieson with amenities and services for passengers in suites and Crown & Anchor Diamond members. Deck 10 forward is the Bridge.
Deck 11. Aft is the entrance to the Windjammer Cafe` (Buffet dining) where Chris Manley's carved wooden birds are displayed: The anhinga is stunning. Here are also the upscale restaurant Portofino and the Island Grill. Midship is the area with the main swimming pools and whirlpools, Pool Bar and deck chairs. Then there is the Solarium with a swimming pool and 2 large whirlpools (Vincent's favorite) beautifully decorated with replicas of famous Greek and Roman statues and mosaics. Forward is the Spa and the Shipshape Fitness Center.
Deck 12. Aft is Adventure Beach, dedicated to children activities, with a kids' pool and play area. Next is the Ocean Club with video arcade and games and then there is the Teen Disco Optix. Here is also the popular Johnny Rockets 50's diner, with naugahyde booths and jukebox, serving great hamburgers, crunchy fries and delicious milk shakes, a nice trip to "memory lane" for some of us. Midship is the jogging track and deck chairs and forward is the upper level of the Spa and Fitness Center.
Decks 13. This deck is dedicated to outdoor activities: a sports court for basketball or volleyball, a 9-hole mini golf course and the rock climbing wall.
Deck 14. Here are the Crow's Nest Observatory, the Viking Crown and Cloud Nine Lounges, the 19th Hole Bar and the Seven Hearts card room. All with a beautiful surrounding view of the pool deck and ocean.
Deck 15. On top of everything is the Skylight Chapel. Quite a lot to see and do for all ages!
CABIN Cabin 7600 is wheelchair accessible and one which we have occupied on all of the Voyager Class ships several times. When entering on the right there are two large armoires with shelves. Then, there is a king size bed with a turquoise suede head board and two night stands with reading lamps. When entering on the right there is the huge tiled bathroom with sink and medicine cabinet located in the corner --- a 5'x5' shower with safety rails nicely placed. There is a sofa, a large coffee table, a TV, refrigerator and finally a desk/vanity. The far wall is all glassed and the balcony holds two lounge chairs and a table. The steward, Wayne McDuffus, took care of everything when we were out, yet, was handy whenever we called. What more can passengers ask for; he was pleasant, polite and very efficient.
FOOD & SERVICE Under Maitre D' Maurizio Curcio there is a wonderful dining atmosphere. The pace of the service is neither too rushed or too slow. Food preparation is directed by Executive Chef Danilo Austero and his 130 chefs: fresh, well executed and nicely plated. A variety of offerings allows for every palate to be pleased. They prepare over 16,000 meals and snacks daily. Our table for four in the Magic Flute Dining Room was aptly served by the Waiter Dino La Cayo and his assistant Diosdado Langress under Head Waiter Cetin Bolat. All were excellent.
The Luncheon Menu in the dining room is fixed for every day; the only part that changes is the special which consists of an appetizer, an entree and a dessert. There is also a pasta buffet where individual specialties are made on order (i.e.. garlic, shrimp, marinara, etc.) There is great food everywhere onboard and room service was superb. Each morning breakfast in the cabin was on time and piping hot. There is an average wait of 45 minutes for room service, after all this is a huge ship with thousands of passengers.
We spent our 36th Wedding Anniversary Dinner at Captain Tengelsen's table. It was a memorable meal presented by the Maitre D' Maurizio: San Padre crab cakes, New England clam chowder (this was excellent), mixed California greens salad, and the entrees were superb. Mary had the Seafood Pasta Aragosta (fettuccine with lobster, sea scallops and prawns in a creamy sauce) which she enjoyed very much; Vincent had the Filet Mignon Madagascar, which he declared perfectly done. Our friendly Captain pronounced the dessert a hit (a delicate chocolate basket filled with wild berries and mousse).
Great company, great food and then the perfect ending to the evening was the show in La Scala Theatre featuring the international celebrity Charo (more on her later). Back to food, there are specialty restaurants offered for an additional charge: The Johnny Rockets, 50's style diner ($3.95pp) and the Portofino, upscale restaurant, reservation recommended ($20pp).
ENTERTAINMENT Cruise Director Becky Thomson is gorgeous and upbeat. We first met her when she was part of the start-up team of Voyager. RCI offers a greater variety of entertainment and activities than any other line: the Ice Skating Rink, Rock Climbing wall, a full basketball court, golf, shuffleboard, ping pong, swimming, Ship Shape Fitness Center and Spa. There is also the Casino Royale, Trivia, Bingo, etc. There are the nightly shows; this cruise Charo brought the audience to its feet by singing beautiful songs, telling hilarious jokes and, most of all, with her classical guitar playing for which she has won many international acclaims and awards. She was a student of Segovia and played with the Xavier Cugat band. She did an exquisite performance of Ravel's Bolero and Malaguena. She is beautiful, funny and a consummate performer. Another highlight of this cruise was RCI "Ice Jammin" a live ice skating show with Olympic level performances by an international cast. Our favorite skater was Nikki from Canada. Previously RCI passed out programs listing both performers and musical pieces; we missed the playlets. This program was sensational and the skaters were wonderful. Entertainment on board was terrific.
PORTS OF CALL Due to Vincent's limited mobility and to the fact that we have visited these ports many times before, we did not take any shore excursions. Thus we refer the readers for information on these ports to our other reviews. Day 1. Miami, Florida Departure 5:00pm Day 2. Nassau, Bahamas Arrive 7:00am Departure 1:00pm Day 3. At Sea Day 4. Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas Arrive 7:00am Departure 5:00pm Day 5. San Juan, Puerto Rico Arrive 7:00am Departure 2:00pm Day 6. Labadee, Haiti Arrive 8:00am Departure 4:00pm Day 7. At Sea Day 8. Miami, Florida Arrive 8:30am
CONCLUSION We had cruised on the Voyager five years ago, in January 2000, and were amazed by the immense dimensions of this "giga" ship and, most of all, by the many innovative features first seen at sea. Since then we have cruised on all the Voyager Class ships, thus it is sort of deja` vu; however, now we spend more time going around and admiring the individual pieces of artwork which decorate the various areas of these ships. It is like visiting a museum. Each day we tour different areas, take the time to enjoy the interesting sights, learn something new, and .... "smell the roses!" (as the old saying goes). We are addicted to cruising. This was our 49th cruise and our 24th on RCI ships, thus it is evident that RCI is one of our favorite cruise lines. The main reason is that the perks and benefits offered to the members of the Crown & Anchor Society are substantial, especially to those repeaters who have achieved the Platinum and Diamond levels. We are looking forward to sailing on the Radiance, in March, which will be our 25th RCI cruise giving us the Diamond Plus status with more benefits and a greater chance of an upgrade. Happy Cruising!