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Lizcourt

Just back from Voyager 9-day (very long, part one)

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We just returned home from the 7/2 sailing of the Voyager out of Bayonne to the Western Caribbean. Let me begin by saying we had a fabulous time and would sail RCCL again in a second. However, since we all know that RCCL employees monitor this board, I think it makes sense to post the negatives as well as the positives, in the hopes that it might lead to "tweaks" that will make a great cruise even better. So please spare me the "some people just like to complain" flames; everything here is meant to be a constructive suggestion. Also, since sometimes comparisons help put things in perspective, and since it's only natural that you make comparisons between lines once you've been on a few cruises, a lot of these categories will involve comparing Voyager with Carnival cruises or other RCCL ships (which are the only bases for comparison I have, since five of my nine cruises have been on RCCL, and the rest on Carnival).

 

Embarkation: Outstanding. I know that people on earlier Bayonne cruises complained about confusion at the port, but for my money the kinks have all been worked out. Since we live in NJ, we drove to the pier, unloaded our luggage, which was immediately taken by a porter. Then one family member parked the car ($12 per day, payable in advance), and was shuttled back to the unloading area. From there it was through the now-standard security metal detector check, and immediately into the suite check-in line, which was very short. We had been led to believe that the priority check in would not be available for our Junior Suites, but only for Grand or Royal Suites. That did not turn out to be true; the priority check in was marked simply "suites" and since that's what our RCCL luggage tags also said we followed the signs, and, sure enough, they had all our information and sea pass cards there. After no more than 15 minutes, we were ready to board the busses that take you for the 2 minute ride from the check in area to the ship itself. By far the best check in procedure on any cruise I've been on -- even counting other suite "priority" check ins -- and worlds better than any embarkation at the New York pier (from which I've sailed four times). Definitely one of the best features of the entire cruise.

 

Itinerary: Again, outstanding. Like many people, we stayed on the ship in Jamaica, but its still a nice enough port. The other three -- Labadee, Freeport and Grand Cayman, were spectacular. A couple of port hints that we did not see on the boards prior to sailing (if this is old news, forgive me, but if we didn't know these things, maybe someone else will have missed them as well). At Labadee, we opted at first for Hideaway Beach, based on the fact that it appeared to be set farther away from the tender point (which we assumed would be frantic and congested) and yet was near to the lunch pavillion and rest room facilities. If you just want to lie on a quiet beach and don't care much about swimming, Hideaway is fine; peaceful secluded from the rush, yet close to facilities. But if you go to a beach to enjoy the water, like we do, this beach is a very poor choice. It is extremely rocky -- so rocky that you'll slice your feet up if don't have water shoes on. We were very, very disappointed. But then, after an excellent barbeque lunch, we walked up to Barefoot Beach, one beach closer to the tender area, but still not right in the "hub" of activity. This place was paradise. As its name implies (which we probably should have figured out in the first place) the sand here is powder soft, with no rocks. We had an absolutely blissful afternoon in the Caribbean sunshine, swimming in clear waters, looking back at the beautiful palm fringed beach. Amazing.

 

Incidentally, if you haven't been to Labadee lately (we were last there in 1997, when we cruised on Grandeur of the Seas), you won't recognize the place. It's been completely upgraded and expanded, and is now a first-class private island (in my opinion, RCCL's other private island, CoCoCay, can't hold a candle to the "new" Labadee).

 

Labadee does bring me to the first negative, however. Tendering over was a nightmare. We were trapped in a crowd on the stairs a full deck above the gangway for a half-hour waiting for a tender. People were hot, complaining and losing it. One elderly woman shoved my sister on the stairs while she was holding my two-year old niece in her arms simply because my sister hadn't moved down two steps fast enough for her liking. I think this is a direct result of the fact that there was no tender ticket system. On other cruises I've been on -- including Grandeur and Monarch, as well as all of the Carnival cruises I've sailed on -- you had to get tender tickets in advance with a time on them. After a few hours, the crowds thin out anyway, and they abandon the tickets, but for those first couple of hours, the ticketing system prevents the kind of bedlam that we experienced at Labadee. I certainly think that RCCL should consider using tender tickets on Voyager.

 

Also, while we're on port issues, we had read on the board that in Freeport the Sheraton at Our Lucaya would allow you use of their beach chairs and facilities for a $20 fee. That is no longer true (they told us they abandoned that policy two months ago). However, it's not that big a deal if, again, you like to spend your beach days mostly in the water like we do. They still let you use their beach for free, so you can spread your beach towels on the sand, and just swim in the water. If, like me, you can't stand laying right on a towel on the beach, there is a low stone wall that makes a pretty good seat for resting and reading a book when you're taking those ocassional breaks from the water. There's also a seaside cafe right off the beach where you can sit at a table under an umbrella and get a drink or a quick, fairly cheap lunch of sandwiches or salad. Of course, the hotel itself has restrooms in their public areas that no one seems to care if you use. The only "beach" excursion offered by the ship in Freeport is the Tranquility Shores trip. I can't speak first-hand, but our tablemates said that it was anything but "tranquil" -- they said the beach was not great, and their day was constantly interrupted by announcements over a loudspeaker from the "camp counselor" trying to organize activities. Again, I can't speak from experience on that one.

 

 

(More in part two of post)

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Cabins: Once again, outstanding. I know that Carnival has the reputation of having roomier standard cabins than RCCL, but the RCCL junior suites are much larger, and much more nicely appointed, than their Carnival equivalents. We actually had full walk-in closets with more drawer, shelf and hanging space than you could ever use. The beds were also much more comfortable than in the Carnival suites, including the fact that when the bed was made up as queen instead of two twins, they used a single queen sheet instead of using two twin sheets and just putting the two mattresses together. That made a big difference in the way the bed felt when you were sleeping alone. Also, although you wouldn't think it makes a difference, the RCCL TV selection is much, much better than Carnival. RCCL has done something so obvious, when you think of it, that I wonder why other cruise lines haven't thought of it (or maybe they have and I just don't know it). Of course, when you're close enough to shore to pick up CNN and TNT by satellite they carry that, but in addition, they run two closed-circuit channels with "vintage" TV show and movies. The TV show channel was a bit pathetic -- the same four episodes of Chico and the Man, the Jeffersons, the Munsters and Flipper over and over for nine days. But the vintage movies were great -- Guess Who's Coming to Dinner, The Wizard of Oz, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Philadelphia Story, Rebel Without A Cause, It Happened One Night and more -- each cycled for about 24 hours apiece. That's in addition to the pay movie selections (which were a bit weak, really). It was a great to actually have something to watch when you wanted a bit a quiet time, or when there was nothing else to do (more on that later).

 

The only area in which Carnival outdoes Voyager in terms of cabins is their balconies, which have glass railings from floor to rail, and nice grooved teak surfaces, as well as the ability to open up between cabins, so that if you're traveling with family in cabins next door, you can essentially have one gigantic balcony running along the cabins. That's not possible on Voyager, whose cabins have full walls between them (which, on the upside, does provide a greater degree of privacy on the balconies). Also, the bottom two-thirds of the balcony wall on Voyager is an opaque wall, so that you tend not to be able to see as much of the sea when sitting on the balcony as you can when sitting on the wholly glass-enclosed Carnival balconies (my understanding is that this particular design "flaw" has been corrected in later Voyager-class ships).

 

Food: In the dining room, RCCL beats Carnival, though its a close call. The selections were varied, and the food, I thought, was very, very good (contrary to what I've read by some reviewers on this board). For casual dining, I think the newer Carnival ships, like Carnival Legend and Carnival Pride, leave the RCCL Windjammer in the dust, both in organization and in food quality. The Carnival ships have broken the casual dining area in numerous substations, one of which is the "international station" which changes daily. The design lessens the lines considerably. Carnival also has more cooked-to-order stations, including a deli where you can get sandwiches made to order. None of that is true on Voyager, where the lines at peak times still tend to be long, and the food very standard -- a pasta dish, burgers, chicken (all burgers on the ship are done to within an inch of being rock hard, out of fear of e-coli, making them largely inedible), hot dogs, premade mini sandwiches, etc. Perfectly acceptable, but nothing special. Johnny Rockets food was mediocre at best (largely because of the aforementioned decision to burn all burgers on board), though the malts and shakes are very good. The Cafe Promenade, where you can get pizza, small sandwiches (ham & cheese or tuna on croissants or small rolls), and cookies 24 hours, is fine. The pizza's not as good as on Carnival, but its nice to have the sandwich and cookie alternatives. However, there is nothing to drink at Cafe Promenade except coffee, or drinks you buy from the bar. They need to have the lemonade and ice tea which is available in the Windjammer also available here.

 

Public Areas: The Promenade, in my humble opinion, is highly overrated. I'm sure the "mall" is a first-rate engineering achievement, but every ship I've been on has similar shops, albeit not in a mall arrangement. What's not overrated, however, is Studio B, the ice rink. It is a fabulous place, and the site of the best show on the ship. Also, the library is two stories, lovely, and far, far more extensive than any I've seen on other ships (including a science section that has books by Stephen Hawkings and Albert Einstein -- do you think anyone actually reads them on vacation?). It's also got a lot more internet terminals than Carnival ships, although the satellite service was, to say the least, sporadic on this latest trip. The LaScala theater is okay, though I don't like the fact that it has all theater-type seating instead of the bench seating which is usual on other ships. The casino is very cramped, both in the slot area and in the table area -- which, I was surprised to find, seemed to be much smaller than on the newer Carnival ships (though that may be because their more open layout makes it seem less crowded, and therefore bigger).

 

As for the pool area, let me first say that I'm not someone who is willing to fight the crowds to get a chair on sea days. But even from my somewhat biased point of view, I would say the pool area design on Voyager is a disaster. Because the two main pools are side by side (instead of being in a line of separated areas as on the longer-but-narrower Carnival Pride and Legend) you get a mass of humanity cramming into one mid-ships area. It's an annoying conglameration of noise, confusion, congestion, and to be avoided at all costs. The congestion is worsened by the fact that the aft of the pool deck, which might have provided a nice quiet place to sun, is taken up with the minature golf course, full basketball court, inline skating course and rockwall. However, since all of these areas seemed to be in full use on sea days, I can't really say that the tradeoff in space wasn't worth it. If you want a really nice place to sit and read a book and watch the sea roll by, try deck four, where very comfortable chairs (though no lounges) line the decks that also contain the obligatory shuffleboard courts. Like most people, I didn't discover this nice quiet area until well into the cruise, though I made good use of it after that.

 

Entertainment and activities: My first few cruises were on RCCL, but since then I've mainly been on Carnival. Maybe I've therefore just gotten used to the Carnival way of doing things, but I was very, very disappointed with the entertainment and activities on Voyager. Dealing first with entertainment, with the exception of the ice show, which is everything that people say it is and more, the production shows were very substandard. The staging bordered on the amateurish. Don't get me wrong when I say that -- the dancers were excellent and worked their hearts out, but the STAGING was continually "singers in front, dancers back them up." In my opinion, the staging was hampered severely by the decision to have the band on the stage, which prevented the show designers from using the full stage to best advantage for the performers. There simply was no comparison between the Voyager production shows and the far, far more professional and superior Carnival shows -- or for that matter, the shows on Grandeur, which I still remember as being among the best I ever saw at sea.

 

As for activities, if you're either a sunworshipper or atheletic, there's no problem. The daytime activities, including inline skating, the rockwall and the cacaphonous pool area, are geared to you. However, Voyager has completely forgotten about the rest of us. In eight years of cruising and nine cruises, this was the first time I was ever bored during a sea day on a cruise ship. Maybe the youthful, athletic customer that RCCL is gearing itself toward doesn't want to be bothered by trivia contests, game shows, movies, name that tune, or similar organized activities, but those things need to be available for the rest of us. Even when events like Karaoke, Quest and the like were held on Voyager, they invariably began at 10:45 or later, and usually were specifically noted to be "for adults only." The two parades in the Promenade, for example, begin at 10:45 pm and 11:30 (if I remember correctly), which made them off limits to my four nieces, who probably would have enjoyed them immensely. Events that we were able to enjoy as a family with my nieces on Carnival, such as Karaoke afternoons, became something that we couldn't do together. Most frustrating, the movie theater on Deck 2 showed three really good movies that we would have liked to watch together -- Master and Commander, Lord of the Rings Return of the King, and Cheaper By The Dozen -- but they only showed them once each RIGHT IN THE MIDDLE OF PORT DAYS. (Incidentally, this was also the only time they had another activity that we usually do as a family on a cruise -- line dance lessons). Why in God's name would they run movies ONLY when the vast majority of people were off the ship? Doesn't it occur to them that some of us might have liked to see them on sea days, particularly as an alternative to the madness of the pool deck?

Even my nieces, who did take advantage of the rock wall, ice skating, and rollerblading offered on board, complained of having nothing to do on some of the sea days, which has never, ever happened to us on a Carnival cruise.

 

(Continued in part three)

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Debarkation: If you had asked me a few hours ago, I would have told you that debarkation was also a big negative on this ship, but in retrospect, I don't think that's necessarily true. With a few minor adjustments, we could have had a much easier time of it. First of all, we were under the impression that our tag colors would have been among the first called. My sister and her family were in the Royal Family Suite, and the rest of us were in Junior Suites. On Carnival, the higher your category of stateroom, the earlier your ticket color is called to debark. In my opinion, that is simply the equivalent of a the priority checkin, and is the way debarkation should be handled. In fact, however, we were among the last of the colors to be called, which, having expected the opposite to be true, we found annoying, and our wait seemed longer than it probably was as a result. In any event, here are a few tips to help you with the debarkation process, no matter what color tag you have. They will tell you to wait in the LaScala, which is all the way forward. Don't do it. The gangway is closest to the aft elevators, so wait if you can in the public lounges on 3, 4 or 5 near those elevators. Also, if you have driven to the pier, after you get your bags, particularly if you have so many that you are using a porter, DO NOT go to the center area to wait for one of your family members to get the car. That's where all the limos, taxis and airport shuttles will be picking up their passengers, and the crowds are enormous. Instead, as you come out of the terminals with your bags, go down to the left toward the shuttle that will take you to the cars. Far fewer people congregate there, and you'll have a much easier time waiting with your bags and loading your car when it gets there.

 

Again, we had a great time, and any complaints listed here are meant to be constructive criticism only. If you have questions, post them here and I'll try to check in over the next few days and answer them.

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thanks for the review, we leave Aug 13, Great tips, informative, good insite, which is what we look forward to in any review, I'll let you know how we do when we return, again, thanks

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Great review!Thank you. We leave on Friday! Did you eat in Portofino's? When is a good night to eat there? Also, did you notice that they had priority boarding for platinium card members? What time did you finally get off the ship?

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Thank you for a very well done review. I appreciate all of you suggestions and comments. Also, thanks for taking the time to post them. We leave on July 30th!:)

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Licourt - Thank You we leave Friday and your information has been very helpful particularly with regard to Labadee and Freeport. Much appreicated! :)

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Harvogel: We didn't eat at Portofino's so I can't help you there. Yes, the priority checkin line for suites is also for Platinum and Diamond members, if I recall correctly.

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Thanks so much for this wonderfully informative and insightful review!! I am planning to print it out and send a copy to my traveling pal, who lives in a different state. We are cruising on the Voyager 9/10. Although a cruise is not my first choice for a vacation, I am really looking forward to this one. Your info aboutundefined the beach will be helpful beyond description!! :rolleyes:

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We leave on August 13th as well and cannot wait. Anyone know what time is the earliest you can board or get to Bayonne so you odnt have to fight the crowds and enjoy some time on the ship and get aquainted before sailing?

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Thank you for your review. I leave on Friday and really appreciate all of your tips. Could you just tell me what time you got off the ship at disembarkation. I don't really know what time to tell my limo service to pick me up. Thanks in advance.

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Hey nyer what time are you going to get to Bayonne. Just trying to figure out what time we should get there when we go

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Having just returned as well from the 7/2 sailing, DEFINITELY go to Portofinos. It is well worth the 20 bucks as the same meal in NY would cost over $ 200 a couple. My choice to eat in the specialty restaurants is usually Caribbean night as I am not too fond of Jerk Chicken and conch fritters..so that would be Tuesday (Ocho Rios day) on board the 9 night cruise.

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We are being picked up at 10:00 am. We live on Long Island and figure it will take about 1 1/2 hours to get there. We figure that puts us at the terminal about 11:30-11:45 if we hit bottleneck traffic.

 

We are very excited...can't wait to go:D

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Great review.

 

A couple of questions for our 7/30 sailing:

 

1 - I like to walk fast in the morning (not a jog). Can the jogging track be used for this or is it too narrow?

 

2 - Along with my first question, does the deck 4 outside promenade go completely around the ship?

 

3 - I don't think I'll be too impressed with the mall either, other than the initial "Wow" factor. Is the Cafe Promenade a free eatery or an extra fee place?

 

4 - What time did you get to the pier - you didn't mention it.

 

5 - We're not all in suites. As you were passing to your separate check-in line, did you notice how bad (or good) the regular lines were?

 

6 - Was there traffic to get your car up to the drop-off point?

 

Thanks.

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Also is there a check in line for the balcony's. Also anyone know how to get upgarded. We are on Deck 6 currently and just curious if there is a chance we can get bumped up

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Nyer: We purposely didn't get to the pier too early. On our last cruise, out of New York, half the family got there at 11 am and it took us an hour and half of standing on various lines before we could board. The other half arrived at about 2:30 for a 5 pm sailing, and there were no lines at all. This time, we left my house around 1:00, drove the 35 minutes to the pier, and were through all the embarkation process and on the ship by shortly after 2.

 

As for the return trip, we were officially supposed to dock at noon, and begin debarking at 1. In actuality, we docked around 10:30 or 11, and I think the first tag colors were called around noon. Even as one of the last tag colors called, we got off the ship at 1:10, and had retrieved our luggage and cars and were pulling away from the port at 1:45. I would think that you could safely tell your limo driver to be there at noon (but that's my personal preference, as I'd rather pay the waiting charge than take a chance that I'd be standing there with my luggage waiting for the limo).

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NJSKI: Yes, the jogging track is "double wide" and would be wide enough for joggers to pass you if you wanted to take a brisk walk along. Deck 4 does not go all the way around the ship, but decks 11 (the pool deck) and deck 12 (jogging track and lounge chairs) do. (Actually, I'm only 90% sure about deck 11). Cafe promenade is a free eatery, and is open 24 hours (including while you're waiting to debark). We got to the pier around 1:30, and although I only glanced at it, there did seem to be a substantial line for standard check in. However, there were also a much larger number of check in attendants than I've seen in many ports, including NY. I wouldn't say there was "traffic" getting to the luggage drop off point (especially if you have ever left from the NY pier, which is an absolute zoo). There was a line as you approached the drop off area, and it did slow to stop and go for the last couple of hundred feet, but it was no more than a five minute wait at most.

 

 

Pumbaa70: There is no separate check in line for standard balcony cabins, only suites. As for upgrades, none were available on our sailing, which was completely sold out. I'm not sure what the process would be on sailings that do have upgrades available.

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The reason that you where last of the ship is because Royal Caribbeans disembarks people by flight(earlist to latest. Then the people who are doing buses and last the people who drive. They do not do it by what cabin you are in. If you are a C&A member and and are at a certain level than you get priorty disembarkation.

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I responded to a few questions like your above...so see my previous post...Just Back from 7/2 9nt Voyager from Bayonne..Ask Away...as far as jogging, on a sea day jogging around the track is impossible..too many people and chairs moving in different positions...Try early morning or if you get back early from a shore excursion. Deck four goes almost around the ship...at the front, you need to climb a few stairs to get around.

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Thank you, Liz, for your advice and quick reply. Obviously, since we are leaving in just a few days, I would like to get all my little details worked out.

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rcicruiser: we were prepared for the white tags (early debarkation) to go before us, but I simply can't believe that 6 different tag colors all had flights and thus had priority over everyone else. In addition, all of the tags on the luggage in the suites along our corridor were the same color -- blue. If tag colors actually corresponded to flight times, one would have expected that some of those tags would have been a different color; its a little too coincidental to think that everyone in a suite on our deck just happen to fall in the same category if those categories really are indicative of travel plans.

 

cbreeze: We stayed on the ship in Ocho Rios, since we didn't feel like climbing the falls. In Grand Cayman, three of us (including me) took the Stingray City and Snorkel combo tour, and I highly recommend it. They took us out to a beautiful reef about a half hour off shore for some of the best snorkeling I have ever experienced, then proceeded out to Stingray City with its crystal clear waters and amazing stingrays. The rest of the family took the glass bottom boat tour and they said it was fabulous.

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