VOYAGER OF THE SEAS
by Ronald Epstein
I am the guy who had never wanted to cruise. I was forced into doing so
back in 2002 as part of a business trip. The first experience aboard VOYAGER OF THE
SEAS was so memorable that I have taken 4 cruises since including EXPLORER
and LEGEND OF THE SEAS. I am now planning two more cruises for next year
and probably for every year to come. I suppose you can say that I have become a
There is no argument that cruising is the best way to spend a vacation and
the absolute best value for your dollar. The only difficult part is finding a
cruise line and a ship that you are most comfortable with. My past 5 cruises
have been with Royal Caribbean. I am convinced that while RCCL may not
be the most "perfect" cruise experience, it does provide the best "bang" for
the buck. I would estimate RCCL is middle-of-the-road when it comes to
quality cruising. From all the reading I have done as well as talking to
cruisers I have met along the way, it seems RCCL rises up above such lines
as CARNIVAL, PRINCESS and NCL. I also hear that it falls short of lines such
as HOLLAND AMERICA, CELEBRITY and CRYSTAL.
THE TRIP: BACK ON VOYAGER 10/22/04
I chose the repositioning cruise aboard VOYAGER OF THE SEAS for three
distinct reasons. First, the ship was leaving out Bayonne, located only 40
miles from my home. Second, because this was a repositioning cruise the
price was very good. Finally, I just wanted to be back aboard VOYAGER, a
ship I have never stopped admiring. It was my first cruise experience back
in 2002 and I was elated to be returning to it again.
How does the ship look after 3 years? Still quite good but not without a
little noticeable wear and tear. Walk the deck and you can see all the filth
underneath the pool chairs. The cabin had a stain in the carpeting and the
couch. All of this can be somewhat overlooked once you see how well polished the crew still keeps the interior of the ship which still has a classy
feel and look to it.
Boarding in Bayonne was not as smooth an experience as I had hoped but it
wasn't as awful as it could have been. We got to the pier at 11:15am and
got on line to the preferred suite check-in. That process went rather
fast. The problem was that they placed all of us in a very small holding area
for 2 hours until the ship was ready to board at 1:30. I have read that normally
boarding starts as early as 11am, but it was not the case
The next problem was the shuttle bus. You have to board a shuttle bus
that drives a few hundred feet to the ship. People pushed and shoved out
of the 2 small doors of the holding area into the adjoining lot to board the
shuttle busses. It was an awful mad rush with people giving no consideration
to others and not a RCCL person in sight to conduct this boarding process
in an orderly fashion.
By 1:45 we were on our ship, in our room and ready to head up to the Windjammer/Island Grill to have lunch. I must say that I always look forward
to the first day's lunch. They always serve a fried chicken dish that is
always satisfying. It's funny -- after all these cruises with RCCL I pretty
much know their lunch menu schedule from day to day.
OUR CABIN AND SERVICE
For the past 4 cruises I have always selected a Junior Suite (JS) cabin.
This year we picked a Grand Suite (GS ) cabin and were greatly
impressed. Not only are the Grand Suite cabins on deck #10 noticeably bigger in room,
bathroom and balcony space but also a little more elegant. The room comes
with a 2.1 stereo system complete with VHS/DVD/CD player. The walk-in
closet is bigger than the JS cabin. There's even a nice bar where you'll be
tempted to set up shop. There were even robes waiting for us on the bed
(something you don't get in the JS suite).
I can't say much about our stateroom attendant, an Indian woman named
Shanoe. We threw her a $20 tip right up front hoping to get a little better
service than she would provide anyone else. Her instructions were simple:
keep us stocked with ice because we were going to be drinking a lot of
alcohol. Wouldn't you know it -- we rarely got the ice we wanted. We found
ourselves having to call room service several times to get ice refills and at
one point we were told that they were so busy that we would have to wait.
TV programming is a joke! Every channel is full of commercials hawking
RCCL products and excursions. They show the same movies and TV shows over
and over again all week. -- many of which have been shown on all the other RCCL cruises I have been aboard.
The best thing about the Grand Suite and all the suites above it? The
CONCIERGE SERVICE. This is well worth the cost of a GS over a JS cabin.
Why? The concierge not only gets you all the show tickets that you would
normally have to wait on line for, but he/she will also make your preferred
dinner reservations. Additionally, you get a key to a private meeting
room where continental breakfast is served daily, and open bar is available
between 5-7 pm. Yes, you read right. We had our fill of beer, hard liquor
and champagne every single night -- not to mention all the cappuccino we
I really have to commend a gentleman by the name of Drazen, our concierge.
He was absolutely fantastic. He made sure that we were well taken care of
the entire trip. Drazen had the uncanny ability to socialize with anyone and
everyone, while making you feel you were the most special person in the room.
Anyone that has the pleasure of Concierge Service aboard the VOYAGER will be very happy to get to know Drazen. We miss
As I stated above, we loved our GS cabin. We spent most all our time in
it sitting on the balcony drinking our mixed alcohol beverages. The only time
we went out of the room was to either eat or go swimming.
The ship seemed overcrowded and we were told that it was almost filled
to capacity. The promenade often was packed during days at sea and the
pools and hot tubs were most always crowded.. The only time we had the
pool or hot tubs pretty much to ourselves was during first seating at dinner.
One of the most disappointing things we found is that at about 10pm every
night they shut down a majority of the hot tubs and pools. It's as if night
life suddenly comes to a halt at 10pm. Any of us that wanted to go swimming or
lie in a hot tub found them even more overcrowded due to lack of availability.
Still, despite the complaints, we did manage to hot tub and swim with a
minimal amount of company. Call us selfish, but nobody likes swimming
or hot tubbing in an overcrowded environment.
Outside of the pool area the ship never seemed too overcrowded. Elevators
were mostly available, but there were times after getting out of a show or
days at sea that you had to sit and wait.
I actually discovered something for the first time in 5 cruises -- the dining
room experience is not that bad. In the past I avoided eating in the dining
room mostly for the fact that I don't enjoy socializing with strangers. This
time out we had a group of friends with us so we were seated at their table
and I finally got a taste of what it's like to eat in the dining room vs. the
Windjammer/Island Grill cafeterias.
We were situated in the Magic Flute (Deck 5) for second seating. Normally
I would never pick second seating but actually found it to be more advantageous
for the fact that it was less crowded in the dining room. In addition, we were
able to use the FIRST SEATING time to go swimming and hot tubbing while
everyone was eating.
Our head waiter's name was Bim. His assistant was Alexander. They were
both exceptional at taking care of our needs. The friends we were seated
with demanded food off the menu every night and were always taken care
of. There was absolutely no problem ordering seconds or thirds of any
entree. The food was always very good.
This was definitely a cut above eating at the Windjammer/Island Grill for
dinner -- something which I did for the past 4 cruises. There is something
to be said for the Windjammer/Island Grill -- it is a good place to have lunch
or a snack. Between 11:30-2:30pm the cafeterias serve up a pretty decent
lunch. Delicious burgers and hot dogs can always be found in the Island
Grill, along with an assortment of tempting desserts. Between 3:30-5:00
you can go back in and get a snack which includes a daily dose of nachos
and hot dogs. An ice cream machine is always available, though it is not
good quality Ice Cream. Overall, the food in the Windjammer/Island Grill is
decent. While many people have complained it is cafeteria quality food, we
managed to put on quite a few pounds eating lunch and snack there daily.
Breakfast is not that great. The pancakes and waffles are rubbery and the
eggs always have a sort of powdery feel to them. You can't get a decent
pastry item or donut aboard the ship either. We opted for room service
every morning. The room service was fine, but the portions were small. Room service is available
Johnny Rockets is incredible. You sit down and are immediately served
with a piping hot serving of fries and onion rings. The burgers are just
sensational as is the milkshakes (which cost extra). We were lucky to eat
there before the $3+ service charge is enacted in just a week or so.
PORTOFINOS - The Hidden Luxury
For the past 4 cruises I scoffed at the fact that the ship had an additional
restaurant that charged $20 for dinner. On this cruise my lady friend
insisted we try Portofinos. Let me tell you -- it is an unbelievable dining
experience well worth the $20 surcharge. In fact, we loved it so much we ate there twice.
You sit in a very elegant small dining room. They tempt you easily into
purchasing a bottle or glass of wine. We ordered the cheapest Merlot on the
wine list at about $30. For the next 2 hours you dine on soup, appetizers
and an absolutely delicious entree. The food was top-notch. For dessert
I highly recommend the Tiramisu that comes in an edible chocolate cup and
includes a Kahlua shooter. I loved it so much that our server, Peter, brought
me a second one. The tip is included in the $20 charge, but we were so completely satisfied
with our dining experience that we tipped an extra 20%.
The shows on the ship were a mixed bag. The Ice Show is an absolute must-see and it did not disappoint. The VIBEOLOGY show was a complete
disappointment. Perhaps the most impressive show we saw was that put on
by GAUCHO - THE SOUTH AMERICAN COWBOY. If you ever find out he is performing on your ship, do not miss it! It is the funniest most amazing
performance I have seen on any cruise ship.
Our cruise director, Richard Spacey, was quite good although after sailing
on past cruises I notice that they all share the same comedy material. His
top 10 list of passenger questions was the same I saw another cruise director
perform on a prior sailing.
Our first stop was Labadee, a private beach owned by RCCL on the coast
of Haiti. I have to tell you, this was my second time on Labadee and I have
grown to dislike it. First, the beach is not that great and the water is not
pristine (lots of seaweed and soot). The beach quickly becomes overcrowded and
you are constantly barraged by vendors selling "Coco-Loco" beverages. They
don't leave you alone. The markets are not a place you want to visit. The Haiti natives
harass all the
visitors who enter the market area. Stay away from the Haiti market!
The only good thing about Labadee was the BBQ lunch that was quite plentiful with burgers, dogs, corn, meaty pork and beef ribs and salads.
Want to hear a sad story? The people who inhabit that RCCL beach and work in the markets are so poor that they were trading their trinkets for the
food that kids were bringing them from the BBQ area. That's right -- the
natives were giving away their wares to anyone that brought them food from
the picnic area. It's sort of sad when you think that we are coming to
an island inhabited by poor people and RCCL is throwing a feast.
The next stop was Aruba. I was also a bit disappointed. The island really
isn't that impressive. We got off the ship, did a bit of shopping, and
then took a $10 cab ride out to Palm beach. Palm beach is supposed to be
the nicest beach on the Island. We found ourselves on the beach outside
the Hyatt hotel. We went in the water which was nice and warm, but
reeked of a gasoline odor. No wonder! There was an oil tanker out in the
distance and all the shore excursion boats were being launched nearby.
Additionally, our skin felt a bit slimy in the water as if we were swimming
Shopping is not a great experience in Aruba. We were told in advance that
there were no bargains to be had when it came to jewelry and electronics.
Additionally, vendors on the Island always took American money but gave
change in Aruba currency. Two cans of cokes cost us $4. When we gave
the restaurant owner $10, we got a bunch of odd-shaped coins back. We
ended up taking our $10 back, giving her a $5 and just parting ways. It
seemed like a huge scam as if all the natives knew that their advantage
was Americans not knowing the currency conversion.
Shame on you Royal Caribbean! This was the most horrendous part of our
journey. We arrived in Miami and hat white colored tags which meant we
were amongst the first off of the ship. Upon walking off the ship we were
informed the luggage would be delayed. They were not kidding! We stood at
the conveyer belt for about 90 minutes awaiting our luggage. The conveyer
belt broke two or three times during that process. Furthermore, RCCL didn't
properly handle the luggage delay. Instead of waiting for all the WHITE tag
people to get their luggage they started bringing other colored tag groups
into the claim area. It was one big herd of people waiting for luggage that
took forever to come.
When we got to the airport we met people who missed their flights thanks
to the sloppy delayed job that RCCL made this process. This was not the
first time I have seen RCCL do a sloppy job with disembarking. When I sailed
the LEGEND OF THE SEAS to Hawaii, our disembarking was also a horrible
nightmare. RCCL simply lined baggage up in a warehouse and let people
trample all over each other to get to it. You would think RCCL would get
this process under control but apparently they have not.
We are now in the process of planning our next two cruises for next year.
For a few days I considered trying Norwegian Dawn out of NYC. I then
read some reviews on the ship and realized that there were a lot of complaints
about that cruise line. We considered Celebrity, but there aren't any decent
Caribbean voyages aboard that line out of NJ.
Reflecting upon my 5 cruises with RCCL I have come to realize that while
they aren't perfect, I have greatly enjoyed sailing with them. I know what I
get when I board a RCCL cruise ship and I am generally satisfied. I would
not hesitate to sail with them again, and I plan to do just that.