November 4, 2005
We have about 50 cruises under our belt since our first sailing in 1984. Our preferred line is Celebrity; RCI was in secondary position. However, we have cruised many lines, including Carnival, Princess, NCL, and Royal Viking. Our ages are 50 and 55. On this cruise, we had about 50 people in a group -- some well known to us and some becoming new friends. This was our second time sailing on the Voyager, our fourth sailing on a Voyager class ship, since we sailed Explorer of the Seas twice before. We choose a GS category, suite 1568, both for roominess of cabin and Concierge lounge privileges.
We were there on time, but the ship wasn’t! High winds in Bermuda had prevented the Voyager from sailing for New Jersey at its scheduled time. Winds were described in the Bermuda Gazette's headline as “ Winds of Terror. “ Voyager was forced to sail a day late, and although it made up much time, it still didn’t arrive until mid-afternoon at the Bayonne, N.J. dock. That meant 3,000-plus passengers had to disembark before starting to board the 3,000-plus waiting at the pier. I will give Royal Caribbean and its Bayonne staff high marks for trying to do it as well as it could be done. Unfortunately, sooner or later it simply had to become a madhouse, leaving passengers with frayed nerves. The situation was not helped by the fact that this cruise had 800 kids sailing, or so I am told.
All in all, RCI did a decent job; they had hot dogs, sandwiches, soda etc. brought in, and provided entertainment for the kids, balloon makers and a band for adults. However, despite their best efforts, I am told that by the time the last people boarded, nerves were pretty well frayed. They even had free water taxis to New York City to keep people busy. The last people boarded after 10 p.m., however, so happy campers they were not. Still, I can’t fault RCI, and having to bus people to the ship from the terminal in Bayonne didn’t help expedite the boarding.
The GS category is a spacious cabin; we have had it before so knew we would be happy with it. Simeon, our cabin steward, was excellent. The only cabin complaint was that our plumbing broke down twice during the cruise. It was rapidly repaired, but several in our party on various decks reported having the same problem: toilet stoppages. Large bottles of shampoo and bath gel were provided and replaced as needed.
The GS category comes with a small lounge providing free drinks and snacks before dinner. Our cruise was pretty full, so this is the first time we found the concierge lounge was often very busy. Seating is limited due to its size. You need a separate key card to get in.
Here RCI has really slipped since our last sailing on the Voyager a couple of years ago. The first notable change was in the physical menus themselves. They were changed from the traditional large, fancy restaurant style menu to an artsy folding menu. They were much harder to read, and had the feel of an Applebee’s or Denny’s menu without the big pictures of the hamburger specials.
Then the food itself was just not so good. We are Diamond members, so RCI food is not unknown to us. The steaks one night were pure shoe leather; everyone at the table who ordered them agreed. When I ordered the alternative steak one night, it was good enough, but the main dish the earlier night was horrible. No one at our four tables was impressed with the selections or the quality. The veal parmigiana on another night was pure cardboard! I’ve eaten many a meal on RCI, but recently I sailed twice on Carnival, which is not a favorite of mine, but honestly their food was superior to the food on this voyage.
When we sailed Carnival, we were astounded when the waiter served bread a piece at a time instead of placing bread baskets on the table. I almost fell out of my seat when the RCI waiter initially served our bread the same way!
SERVICE Service was a real mixed bag. Our waiter was diligent and the headwaiter stopped by every evening and was diligent in providing the little extras requested. The busboys, on the other hand, were simply horrible. Since they complete much of the service work, this really slowed the dining process. One of the big complaints at our table was the after-dinner coffee. Several people liked espresso after dinner. RCI used to provide free cappuccino, but that went by the wayside a while ago. The problem was that many who enjoy espresso after dinner also like sambucca or something with it. Well, liquor is provided by the bar waiter and espresso by the busboy. So to get the espresso takes 15 minutes, and the liquor follows 15 minutes later. You can have either cold espresso and your liquor, or espresso with the liquor by itself after you had espresso. Since neither of these items is inexpensive, you should at least enjoy them the way they were meant to be enjoyed, together. Despite repeated complaints that we would like to get them together, apparently this was impossible. Sadly, the RCI dinner experience is rapidly going mass-market. I sailed NCL recently, and again I had a far better dining experience, even with NCL's freestyle dining. And they provide the cappuccino timely and for free! We were, needless to say, less than happy with the main dining room.
The lunch buffet I found to be more than satisfactory, in both food quality and service. We had no complaints in this area.
The ports were nothing out of the ordinary, and since we go for the ships, I leave port commentary to others who explore ports more than we do.
GYM Personally, I would never be caught dead in a gym; I have carefully cultivated my body mass and wouldn’t risk losing any. However, several members of our group are of a different persuasion and like to abuse themselves doing marathons and such. They were not overly happy with having to pay for a spinning class and then finding that their machines had broken water bottle holders. They felt that if they had to pay, they should at least have equipment that was in proper working order.
NICKLE and DIMING On a 1-to-5 scale, I'd give RCI a solid 4, aiming for a 5. The free cappuccino of yesterday in the dining room is gone; now you have to for it, and it takes forever as I stated. The free ice cream stand on the boulevard was replaced with a Ben and Jerry’s paid ice cream at $4.25 per serving, and the server had not a clue about which ice cream was which flavor. There is free frozen yogurt on the pool deck. Johnny Rockets charges for admission and for milkshakes. They also sell wine packages; then you have to hope you can get the wine served at dinner by an overworked staff. There's a surcharge restaurant, Portofino’s; several in our party went there one evening and thought it was nice but nothing to brag about.
CASINO I can’t complain, since I came home with more than I left with. I hit several $400 and $500 jackpots, and heard of at least two $8,000 winners. There were plenty of quarter and even penny slots. Just be careful, since many machines allow you to set the amount -- especially the $5 dollar machines, up to $25 -- so make sure you know how much you are playing. The quarter machines give options from 25 cents to $1 per credit.
DISEMBARKATION It was chaos for the most part. As Diamond members we are afforded first call off. We were notified by flyer that one restaurant would be our waiting area. We arrived to find no one there; we had been moved to another restaurant area. When we were finally called, they called not only our number but the four immediately after; so much for priority. It was mass exit time. In Bayonne, you have to be bused from the ship to the terminal area, and luggage creates another delaying problem. The elderly had a problem mounting very high bus entrance steps, which didn’t help things move along. Then the luggage area was small and we saw only three porters there. That's 500 couples per porter. I decided to monkey our suitcases out and get the car rather than stay there and pray for assistance with the bags. Fortunately the pick-up area is right out the door so it could have been worse.
So I went off to get the car via another shuttle, and returned to the pick-up area. The good news about Bayonne is that it is a large and pretty empty area, so many cars making pick ups wait along the outer roadways on the side until called by their passengers on cell phones. This makes picking people up much better than at the very limited New York City pier area.
RCI is getting to be a more mass-market product every day. As someone who has sailed them for years, I find that sad but not surprising. It rained in Jamaica, so many people stayed on board. A movie was already scheduled in the screening room. That room seats I would guess about 40 or 50 people. No one thought to move it to the show lounge since it was raining. There's nothing like having about 600 people show up to a movie with 50 seats!
Overall, I never had a cruise I didn’t enjoy for the most part, but this Voyager cruise goes on the bottom of my list of good cruises!
As for selling things onboard, like the art auctions -- haven’t we run that into the ground yet? And now the TV in the cabin has all RCI and ship commercials between tired programming. If they put half the effort into getting a cup of espresso to you as they do marketing their extras, they wouldn’t have to work so hard at selling you stuff. It was $11.95 for a pay-for-view movie; even my horrid cable company back home doesn't have that much gall.
--George in NY
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