Ovation of the Seas Review
I have not seen a lot of Reviews on the Ovation of the Seas since it moved to Australia and I know a lot of folks are anxiously awaiting its arrival in Seattle for Alaskan cruises so I thought I would provide a summary of my 21 Jan -2 Feb Sydney/NZ cruise on the Ovation of the Seas. For informational purposes I am in my early 60’s and my wife mid 50’s and consider ourselves very active people. I do not plan on writing about the ports but we visited Dunedin, Picton, Tauranga, Auckland and Bay of Islands NZ. This was our first trip out that way and we loved Australia and especially New Zealand and will definitely try to go back some day. I am sure I will leave out lots of things that folks are interested in but will do my best. I will be happy to answer any questions.
Bottom-line Up Front: Due to a large number of negative reviews we had a lot of concerns before the cruise but our experience was nothing but positive and we would sail on the Ovation again in a heartbeat. This is a fantastic family ship but it is great for anyone. If you will be sailing on the Alaska cruises you will love this ship and should have a great time
- Crew was incredible; from our Stateroom steward (Iwan) to our waiters to the bar staff, deck folks, etc. Everyone went out of their way to be helpful.
- Food was above (cruise ship) average in all of the Dining facilities especially in the main Dining room (Silk in our case) in the evenings. Windjammer was the Windjammer. Lots of venues and different atmospheres.
- Entertainment was varied and was good to excellent. Most nights you had more than one big event occurring. Fantastic entertainment staff. Joff was our cruise Director and he was great (sadly for future cruisers he was on our plane back to LA and on his way to RCCL HQ for a bit)
- Ship is beautiful and with the exception of a few of the entertainment venues it rarely seemed crowded despite over 4500 passengers.
- There were less than 500 Americans on our cruise with mostly Australians and small number of Chinese and Indian. Cruising with Australians is a lot of fun. Great attitudes, always friendly and there was little to no chair hogging at the pool, around the pool or in the Solarium. We were fortunate enough to be onboard during Australia Day (similar to US 4th of Jul). What a blast!
- Main entertainment venues are too small. The Theater, the Music Hall and the Two 70 are way too small and have a lot of obstructed/restricted views. Most nights if you wanted to see a show you had to be in place at least 30 minutes early and on AC-DC tribute band night 45 minutes was barely enough. It is amazing how many obstructed/restricted views there are in the main theater from both the upper and lower levels.
- No Martini/Champagne Bar. This is one of our usual favorites before dinner and we missed it. Bionic bar was neat the first time you used it but not a replacement for a good Martini Bar
- Pool side dining venue formerly a Noodle shop (Johnny Rockets ?) was a waste of space. More on this later
Embarkation: The ship docked right in the middle of the downtown port with an amazing view of the Sydney Opera house. The ship was departing at 6:30 PM and we wanted to maximize our tourist time in Sydney so we did not board until after 3:00. By far the easiest embarkation we have ever had. We had walked by the ship earlier while sightseeing and there was a pretty large crowd so waiting seemed to pay off.
Stateroom: We stayed in Cabin 8718 which is a starboard side balcony cabin in the far aft part of the ship. Our room was the last one before entering the loft suite area. It was a long walk to the elevator but it was very quiet and peaceful. The cabin seemed a bit bigger to me because my legs did not hit the bed every time I walked by it, but the bathroom was tiny. Cabin had plenty of storage, nice TV and desk (wife had to work a bit), and very comfortable bed. Balcony was good size and had two nice chairs and each had a small piece of furniture to prop our legs. Our steward, Iwan from Indonesia was the best we have had in our 15 or so cruises. He met us on our arrival and ensured we had everything we needed throughout our cruise.
Ship: Overall this is a beautiful ship. There is art everywhere. The majority of the public places were on decks 3-5 (restaurants, shops, entertainment venues, bars etc and decks 14-16 (pools, windjammer, spa/gym, recreational facilities (courts, bumper cars, climbing wall etc.). I liked that it had an outdoor pool and indoor pool area and the adults-only solarium. This will be ideal during the Alaska cruises (except for the chair hogging that is bound to happen). The ship is well laid out and it did not appear to have any hard to find venues that you sometimes find on other ships. There are just so many activity spaces especially if you are a kid. The Promenade could be a bit crowded at times and did not have that big open feeling you have on the Allure or on the Freedom. That said I think I liked the central park and boardwalk on the Allure a bit better but the Ovation was much easier to navigate.
Food: We ate in most of the venues. For breakfast we ate in the Grand, buffet in the Chic, Windjammer many times (crowds after 9:00 AM), Solarium Bistro, and Two 70 Café. Food was good but the menu was just about the same every day and in every location. Two 70 Café was a bit different and had more of a fast food flair but was very good. For lunch while onboard we ate in the Solarium most days (very good), Windjammer a few times (good) and had pizza one day at Sorrento’s (pizza is better than it looks) and hot dogs from the hot dog stand (good variety of hot dogs and bratwurst).
For dinner we had My Time dining and did not make any reservations (to me it defeats the purpose of my time dining). We usually ate during the same time period (6:45-8:00) but at different times every night. Most nights arriving at the lines for the two My Time restaurants it appeared chaotic trying to get a table and a few times we had to wait while folks with reservations were taken care of but it usually did not take long. One night we were asked to come back in 20 minutes so they could give us a table with the servers we had had previously (not our request but appreciated) so we went and got a drink and our table was ready 20 minutes later. I would recommend that if you do not have a reservation that you arrive at the MDRs before or sometime after the early main show because it is a zoo immediately after the show. Apparently after the first night they try to give you the same servers/table as before and although we tried American Icon and even Chic (apparently some folks did not show up for their dinner in Chic so we were moved to the traditional dining venue), we settled on Silk most nights. Overall the food was very good. I learned a long time ago not to eat the steaks and a few other things in the main dining rooms (MDRs) so we did not have a bad meal. There was a great variety of food in the MDR. In addition to the usual fare there were usually a few Indian Dishes on the menu as well as some sort of Australian Pie of the day (meal pie not sweet). Our servers (Shari from Belize and Gretchen from Philippines) were second to none. Their service was great and their personalities were even better. My wife does not like to waste food and does not eat big portions so they were more than willing to serve her smaller portions. One weird thing that I had not seen before is that there were head waiters watching over/lurking in their areas of the restaurant to ensure everything was OK. Frankly we found it a bit creepy (or maybe it was just particular head waiter) but perhaps that is why the MDR experience was so good. That said there were a few nights where everyone arrived at the same time and he did help out. We also ate at the Windjammer one night (so-so) and the Solarium Bistro later in the cruise. We really liked the Solarium Bistro for dinner which has a completely different menu from the main dining rooms for dinner. There is no additional charge but you had to have reservations; the second time we tried to eat there they were unable to accommodate us. We ate in Chops and Jamie’s (for the first time). I love my Ribeye in Chops but they overcooked my wife’s Filet Mignon. I am sure they would have cooked another but she did not want to bother. We liked everything at Jamie’s.
Also on Australian day they had a cook-out with among other things ribs and jerk chicken on the pool deck. This was very well done. Kudos to the chefs.
I mentioned the Poolside dining venue earlier in my negative comments. This venue was an additional charge restaurant open for lunch and dinner on the starboard side aft of the pool (14th deck) and its menu consisted of Fish and Chips, wings, calamari and some sort of a breaded sausage, etc. I do not think that I ever saw anyone eating in there other than a few folks that may have brought something from somewhere else. What a complete waste of a great space. I assume the ship will change the menu on the Alaskan cruises but unless they have a repair period I doubt it will be a Johnny Rockets.
Entertainment: There is no Broadway show on this ship. There was Pixels (reservation required) in Two 70 and two stage productions in the main theater. Pixels was good and although we did not see the other two shows we heard good reviews. The Theater headliners ranged from your typical cruise ship entertainment (singers, piano, mediocre comedians) to a few outstanding comedians and magicians. During our cruise they also had the Australian Eagles and an ACDC tribute bands that each played one night in the Music Hall and one night in Two 70. The Eagles guys were really good but the AC DC tribute band was awesome (my new favorite cruise entertainment). I am only familiar with a few ACDC songs but this band brought down the house. We sat at the bar the night they were in the music hall and I can only assume this was their first time because even the bartenders were taking pictures. This band is probably only for Australian cruises only but if anyone from RCCL reads this post then they should be on every cruise.
There were a few entertainment staff sponsored events including a great party on Australian Day, a 70’s night and an end of cruise party. They were a lot of fun but held in Two 70 which is just not set up to handle big crowds especially since there were a lot of kids on the cruise.
Almost all the bars had some sort of entertainment which usually moved around to include an acoustic singer, two piano players a few bands and the Ovation Orchestra played a few times outside of the theater. Depending on your mood you could find almost any kind of music you were looking for. Most of the music was good. The band Pulse was the closest to a house band andhad an incredible range of songs and genres. They were especially good following/as part of the 70’s party. We really liked the music hall which is a two floor venue. The upper deck also had some pool tables.
Activities: There was something going on all the time to include Bingo, trivia, tastings, etc. I would have loved this ship as a kid. Rock climbing wall, basketball/soccer courts, bumper cars etc. We used the gym on several occasions. It is very well equipped but a bit small for the number of passengers. You really have to figure out what time works best for you. Mornings were very crowded and early evenings were not too bad. The ship also offer a wide array of classes for $20 each (7 for $100 if you pay ahead). We did one class but did not like the instructor so did not take any more classes. The ship has a great jogging/walking track on the 15th deck that is around 4/10 of a mile. Like any ship track it was best to use before 10:00 in the morning or after 5:00. One funny thing about the track is that the Australians keep to the left and Americans keep to the right when walking/jogging so it was anyone’s guess who would move when walking in opposite directions.
- Had the drink package (studied this for a long time (prices ranged from $49 (what we paid)-$62 prior to sailing were $71 on board) – still not sure if it was worth it but when you add in the fresh squeezed juice, specialty coffee and water it was probably worth it. Most frozen drinks were listed as $14 and they were always covered. There was also a good selection of wines covered. I was a little disappointed in the beer selection but that is because I like IPAs and if they had them on the ship I could not find them. They will probably fix this when the ship sails in the U.S.
- Had the Voom and streaming package as part of the beverage combo. First time we had a Wi-Fi package on a ship and the internet was surprisingly good. There were a few places in Southern NZ where the coverage was sporadic but overall it was much better than expected.
- Maybe I missed them but did not see a big push on the specialty restaurants and spa services that are overwhelming sometimes.
- Since it was summer in Australia there were a lot of kids of all ages but overall they were great.
- Ship seemed to do a pretty good job of getting folks on an off the ship and onto their lifeboats acting as tenders. There was a glitch one day in port with the ship’s passenger check off/check in system which led to ship’s security personnel checking folks out manually. It caused an hour delay resulting in the ship departing 30 minutes later. If the system had not come up early in the delay there would be folks still trying to get off the ship. Need a better back up system.
- Do not worry if you cannot get a reservation on the Northstar prior to your cruise. On our cruise there were no appointments in the afternoon and one of the operators said that by the end of the cruise there will be no lines and he was correct. If you want a particular time and location during your cruise then it may be an issue but if like us you were just curious then you should be able to get on. The experience was different but it is not something I would go out of my way to do in the future.
- Two laundry specials: First/second day – fill a bag (good size) of items to be pressed for about $14 (sorry do not remember exact amount) and washing special about the 4th day for about $35. This was great for us because we had been on the road for over a week before we got to the ship. This was mainly for underwear, socks, t-shirts, shorts, etc. and did not include shirts with collars and pants (specifically stated on info sheet that they would charge full price for these items). Thanks to the cruise critic board where I learned you can get more in a bag if you roll the items.
Well I guess I have droned on and it is time to wrap it up. I will do my best to answer any questions and like most reviews there are plenty of others standing by to answer specific questions.