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Copyright 1995-2004 
Linda Coffman

 

Voyager of the Seas Cruise ReviewVOYAGER OF THE SEAS
October 22, 2004

by Ronald Epstein

INTRODUCTION
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 cruise addict.

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
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 today.

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 
could drink. 

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 him.

THE SHIP
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.

THE FOOD
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 24/7.

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
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.

THE PORTS
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 in gasoline.

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.

DISEMBARKING
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.

FINAL THOUGHTS
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.