INTRODUCTION: This is my review of the August 26, 2005 nine day Caribbean sailing of Royal Caribbean's Voyager of the Seas. First some background. My husband and I (late 30's) traveled with my parents (would disinherit me if I mentioned their ages, but you do the math) in two separate "hump" cabins on the eighth deck in category E1. All of us have been on ten plus cruises and basically have traveled at least once on every cruise line in this class. Let me start by saying that while this was a great getaway, the cruise didn't really meet the standards of most previous cruises that we had been on. Basically there were enough high points balancing out the lower points to make this trip only slightly better than okay.
EMBARKATION FROM BAYONNE: In general, leaving from Bayonne sure beats leaving from NY. Parking was easy and relatively cheap, and BTW they DO take charge cards. Cost was $108.00 for the nine nights. Unfortunately, there was the additional charge of having to have the car compounded and detailed the day after the cruise ended due to it having gotten covered in battleship gray paint from a ship in the adjacent yard being painted. This is an ongoing and known problem which had appeared to be solved months prior to our cruise, yet occurred again on the cruise before ours and on ours. Do yourself a favor and check with the boards or even the powers that be at RCCL or the parking facility before you decide to park there in the future. The detailing did a great job, but some of the paint was impossible to remove, and the car will never be the way it was before we parked it there. I won't go into more about this, as it is a separate topic on the cruisecritic message boards. We arrived at the port at about 12:30, parked and immediately got on a shuttle to the terminal building. Lines were basically nonexistent, there was no wait for the bus from the terminal to the ship, and by around 1:00 we were onboard and on our way to our room. CABIN: While it was nice to be able to see both forward and aft from our balcony, I believe the "hump" cabins are somewhat overrated, and wouldn't feel pressed to have one in the future. On Voyager, these cabins are basically the same as any other cabin so there isn't any real plus other than the central location and the somewhat better view. One thing I found odd was that we noticed a lot of cigarette and cigar smell on our balcony. We have always had a balcony cabin on past cruises, and even with a neighbor being a smoker, never had such a problem with the odor that we noticed it to this extent. My best guess is that because our room was dead center of the hump, aerodynamics pushed any smoke odors onto our balcony and it just stayed there. We didn't notice this except when the ship was moving. The ship is "old" compared to many in this newer, larger size category, and in our room, the age was apparent. Our balcony door lock needed to be fixed the first day. (Yes, I know unless Spiderman was a guest onboard, chances of someone coming in the balcony were nil, but DH is a bit paranoid.) The mattress on my side of the bed had such a huge indentation in it, that I spent the first night feeling as if I would roll out onto the floor. The plumbing system just isn't made to handle a large amount of people wanting to use water at the same time, and therefore, the pressure in the shower was pretty low for all but one shower during our cruise. The room basically really could use a refurbishment. I do have to say, anytime we did ask someone to fix a problem, they did so quickly and to our satisfaction. My mattress was replaced with a perfectly comfortable one shortly after I spoke to the cabin steward about it. The cabin steward kept the room cleaned and stocked very well and unobtrusively, and was pleasant and accommodating whenever we did have occasion to need him for something. We got towel animals for most days of the cruise, and that is always a fun and special thing. THE SHIP DECOR & LAYOUT: The ship looks nice enough. The public areas were comfortable and well themed. Again, there are some areas that need thorough cleaning. The Promenade was really neat to walk along, but it kind of seems that RCCL banked on that being the main attraction, and you can only walk around shops so many times before the idea isn't as thrilling as it once was. Although there wasn't a lot of eye catching areas, the aquarium bar with all the fish tanks was really cool. Having the day of the week in the carpet of the elevators was a nice touch, and the detailed listing of where everything is located that is on the wall at each elevator bank was very helpful. For a large ship, it was easy to find our way around, and the signs all over the place directing you to different public rooms, restrooms, etc., were great. The glass elevators were great to look through, but for a ship the size of Voyager, only having two elevator banks is incredibly inadequate. We spent way too much time waiting for elevators and about 70% of the time, we would have to skip the first car that arrived as it was already full, and wait for the next car. We also noticed that the ship felt very crowded. We have been on all the other lines largest ships, and I think the reason Voyager feels so crowded is that since it is one of the first ships to be super large, they didn't have the benefit of seeing how to arrange spaces and traffic flow to avoid that face in the crowd feeling. FOOD AND DINING: The dining room layout with its balconies overlooking the bottom area was truly a pleasure to look at every night. We had requested main seating at a table for four. On embarkation day, we found that we had been assigned to a table for 12. The maitre'd said our best chances for being at a four was to switch to late, and he would get back to us the following day. The waiter the first night was only okay, and the assistant was either new or very lazy. My Mom asked for a straw and he told her he didn't have any. She asked if he could get one from a bar server and eventually he did so. When coffee was served, we requested half and half or cream instead of milk, and again were told they didn't have that. I said, surely the kitchen has cream as it is an ingredient in many dishes, etc. Finally the assistant grumbled about having to go up to the Windjammer to get the cream and then returned with the little cups found in the self serve areas. Neither of these requests were out of the ordinary, so we should not have had such a problem with them. BTW, we later found out that the pitcher of "milk" that comes with your coffee is half and half, which explained why the glass of milk I drank that first night was oh so creamy. Apparently the assistant waiter did not know this. The next night we were switched to a four person table at late seating. The table was in a great location, right next to the Captain's table. We had the most awesome wait staff, and I now understand why some people include the names of their wait staff in their reviews. Our waiter Sidar (spelling probably wrong) was great. He was efficient, pleasant, personable and just a really nice guy. The section captain Cal, was also really nice, and we looked forward to hearing tips about the late night activities and following day's plans from him each night. But Eric, the assistant server has got to have been the best wait staff person any of us have ever had on any of our cruises. His sense of humor was hysterical and he was so attentive to details, that it was like he read minds. He remembered all our preferences (and they could be picky at times), we never lacked for anything, and he had us in peals of laughter during each meal. The food in the main dining room was really quite good. I know RCCL recently changed the menus to do better in this category, and they truly seem to have succeeded. Even on nights that I thought I would be settling with the entree I had picked, I ended up enjoying it anyway. From seeing the older menus on-line and comparing them to the ones we had, I can see that in order to change the quality of main courses offered, RCCL cut back in the other areas. The bread offerings each night hardly varied. There was only one salad offering (other than the always available Caesar salad offered in the alternative section) each night, and the dressing choices were generic thousand island, oil & vinegar, low fat honey mustard or blue cheese. The dressings never changed and there was never a special dressing to go with the salad that was on the menu. It was hard to find vegetables at dinner. After we realized that when the menu says steak with broccoli floret, that that is exactly what you get, one floret, we started ordering a bowl of veggies as a side dish for the table each night. Even though the veggies that came with the entrees were basically a garnish, they were always perfectly prepared and seasoned. Also, some of the vegetarian entrees were good. Many nights we ordered a side dish of the pasta dish too. The desserts were pretty much amazing. I know this because I usually ordered all three every night. Presentation of everything thing we ordered in the dinning room was excellent. The breakfast buffet food was pretty good. It would have been nice if the waffles were freshly made and if there was not such a long line for the toast and egg stations every time we were there. Also, when they ran out of something, it was a problem getting them to refill it. Despite those few shortcomings, breakfast was much better than the lunch buffet. The lunch buffet basically consisted of one or two poorly prepared and overly salted entrees, burgers, franks, mashed potatoes (they were great) and sandwiches. The afternoon snack or "tea" was by far the worst food offering. Every day it was the same, nachos or tacos, samosas, burgers, franks, pizza, and not so great scones. We went to both late night buffets and were underwhelmed. The Promenade Cafe served pizza, sandwiches and desserts basically around the clock. The sandwiches were pretty good, and the pizza while not being "real" pizza was pretty good compared to other line's pizza. The desserts were okay, but the cookies were phenomenal. They selection available throughout the day changed, but we never had a cookie we didn't like. Coffee and tea was also available, and the Seattle's Best coffee they served (free) was really quite good. Unfortunately this venue is not made to handle the throngs of people that all seemed to want a snack at the same time. I believe RCCL could have planned better with regard to staffing this area more at times when logically it would be crowded (after a show, after sail away, etc.) We ordered room service one night but wouldn't have missed anything had we not ordered it. The quality of the food was poor and it took longer than we expected to get to the room. We did find it convenient to order using the TV, and they were great about calling to confirm the order, let us know the type of cookie we requested wasn't available but a substitute was, and calling again to let us know the food was on the way. One thing that is great about the room service on Voyager is that the dinner menu from the dinning room is available for order during dinner hours. Although we didn't take advantage of this, it was nice knowing it was an option, and others would clearly benefit from this. Also, RCCL offers an extensive breakfast menu for room service which is another great feature. ACTIVITIES: There were plenty of things to do throughout the day, and on the days that it rained, extra movies were scheduled. Even if there were no planned activities, between the pools, rock wall, inline skating, mini golf and ice skating it would be hard to get bored. Reactions to the cruise director, Becky Thomson are generally love or hate her, but we thought she was hysterical. Especially when she hosted the night time game shows, her wry sense of humor shined. The Quest was a blast. There was no one in that room that was not laughing and having a great time, participator or spectator. By tacit agreement, no one ever actually says what "the Quest" is when they mention it. Unless you have been to it, the only way to know what it is is to go, so GO! Mom and I did go to Arts & Crafts which was fun and a nice way to spend an hour on sea days. CASINO: We didn't spent a lot of time there, but I just wanted to mention that besides the usual quarter and dollar slots, they have nickel and penny slots too. SHOWS: There were three production shows, an ice show and other headliner shows with comedians, singers, etc. Two of the three production shows were good, the third one which was all Broadway numbers was not so good. We found that show kind of boring because none of the songs really came from major musicals that we were familiar with, other than Chicago. I believe unless you are willing to pay the royalties to get the show tunes that are most loved, a Broadway theme production show is wasted on most audience members. The dancing was so so and we have seen more technically demanding shows on other lines. Only the principle singers are mic'd, and of them the girls were pretty good, the guys not as good. The female principle singer who did not participate in the dance numbers was really quite talented. The headline shows in general were above average compared to typical cruise shows of this type. Even though I am not a fan of the Beatle's, the tribute band "Beatle Maniacs" was really great. Besides being awesome that we could actually see an ice show on a ship, the skaters were very talented and the show was a lot of fun. There were also two parades down the promenade during the cruise. The first one was kind of boring, so we decided not to fight the crowds to see the second one. Young children would probably enjoy the parades more than adults, and would definitely get a kick out of the stilt walkers. Taped game shows and parades were shown on TV during the week after they ran live. PORTS: I won't get into a review of the ports since for us, the cruise is the destination and also, there are so many reviews out there already on ports. I will talk about Labadee for a bit though. Compared to other cruise line's private ports, there were some pluses and negatives. There are no established walkways, so all the walking is on sand which can be uncomfortable for some. On the info about the port, it makes clear that "washroom water is not for drinking." Also, as opposed to there being A hand sanitizer by the buffet, there was an entire wooden wall of them. Being afraid of the sanitary conditions is a definite negative compared to other line's private ports. Also, the pushiness of the vendors made us very uncomfortable. That being said, the beach and landscaping was beautiful, and while we did not use the waterpark, it looked like a lot of fun, and there were an extensive number of options by way of water sports, parasailing, etc., which the other line's ports don't feature. DISEMBARKATION: We requested to be in the first group off the ship since we needed to pick our dog up from boarding by noon or would not be able to get him until after the holiday weekend. Also, we had no checked luggage. Guest services accommodated us without a problem. As long as your luggage is about the size of airline regulation carry on luggage, they said we were allowed to not check it the night before. We arrived in NJ about an hour later than expected, and the ship was cleared by about tenish. We were the first ones off, so I can't really speak for how long it took for the later colors to be called. THE REAL ISSUES: There are a couple of glaring negatives that honestly will make us second guess a RCCL cruise again. First, it seemed as if unless a staff person was personally involved with you (your wait staff or cabin steward basically) they just didn't really care about you or the job they were doing. The attitudes of the staff were not like what we have encountered on other lines. It seemed as if most staff people felt there were there to do the basic requirements of their job and nothing more. Also, it concerned me that during the entire trip only one time did I see someone actually cleaning something in a public area. The same sticky fingerprints on the elevator button that were there at the beginning of the cruise were there at the end. Cups and other debris was left in hallways, stuck in banisters and on the floors of the elevators for hours. I have never been on a cruise before where staff members were not constantly cleaning and maintaining the public areas. It seems as if the attitude of the staff on Voyager is we will deal with Norwalk when it happens as opposed to preventing it by basic cleaning. Our cruise had over 1000 children on it, the largest proportion teenagers. There were often large packs of teens together taking over public areas such as the internet cafe, the hallways, overhangs above the promenade, etc., cursing, fooling around, etc. The elevators were often occupied by teens riding up and down going nowhere. The buttons were often all pushed "for fun." At one point a group of teens even called 911 while my husband was in the internet cafe and then joked about it till staff called back and scared them away. Another night, they were setting hair on fire, and eventually security showed up, kicked them out and then for the last two days or so of the cruise made sure teens were out of the internet cafe by 11 PM ish. I firmly believe it is a parents responsibility to parent their child. But, on the other hand, it is not unreasonable that a 16 or 17 year old is going to spend a minimal amount of time with their parents while on vacation. While it really isn't the cruise line's job to parent, I strongly feel that if the usual amount of staff that other line's have were present doing the things that staff on all the other cruises we had been on usually do, this acting out, rude behavior would have been somewhat deterred. If someone is constantly making sure the bar cups are taken out from the elevator floor or cleaning the push buttons near the elevators, kids would be less likely to abuse the elevators. If there were an attendant that had any hours at all in the internet cafe (there wasn't BTW), kids would not be in there hanging out in large groups cursing, listening to loud music and just misbehaving. If someone were responsible for cleaning the stairway banisters as frequently as the industry norm (never saw anyone do this at all BTW) kids would be less likely to congregate on the staircases. Pretty much anyone I spoke to in passing had comments about how obnoxious the misbehaving kid thing had gotten. If we saw it, obviously staff saw it, yet nothing was done to deter it. It was obvious that staff was aware of the larger than usual amount of kids expected, since before we even left NJ, it was repeatedly announced that a 1:00 am curfew would be in place for anyone under 18 not in a ship's organized activity or with parents. I just don't understand why despite having a large security force (we saw them getting the promenade ready for the parades, and know they had an obvious security presence available) they where not utilized to make all the guests more comfortable. We have cruised at this busy time of year for kids to be cruising in the past on other lines and never seen this problem before. SUMMARY: There's Pepsi, and then there is Coca-Cola. There's Burger King, and then there is McDonald's. There's Universal Studies, and then there is Walt Disney World. In life there are lots of close seconds. The people who love Pepsi, Burger King and Universal over the "number ones" are a loyal fan base and really support their favorite products. The companies that are the clear "number twos" seem to accept that and not do much to improve to that slightly better number one slot. RCCL like Burger King and Pepsi and other "number twos" spend their resources maintaining their fan base instead of trying to recruit new fans. RCCL's loyalty program is known as one of the best in the industry, but in our opinion, they just did not do enough to win us over to their side. It was a better than okay experience, but I can get all the positives I found on this cruise plus many fewer of the negatives by choosing another line. In short, unless there was a really great itinerary that I absolutely had to do, I don't think I would choose RCCL again.