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Voyager Review March 15-22, 2009


Cindy

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Spring Break -- Round 5!



Voyager of the Seas March 15, 2009

We had a very nice cruise on the Voyager of the Seas out of Galveston March 15-22. This was our ninth cruise, our fifth on Royal Caribbean, and the fifth year in a row we sailed out of Galveston during Spring Break. We had this cruise booked for well over a year…I made our reservation in January of 2008. It must have been before Royal Caribbean realized that almost all of Texas had the same Spring Break again this year, because shortly after I made the reservation prices for our JS went up a little over $1,000 per person, and there they stayed. I felt like my obsession with planning early and excessively paid off!

THE CAST OF CHARACTERS:

--Cindy and Jim – 48 year old DINKs from Houston who love to cruise, and have to sail during busy vacation times because of work obligations.

--Bennie the RCCL Traveling Bear on his First Birthday Cruise!

--“Flat Lauren” – Our 8 year old niece’s class project based on the book Flat Stanley.

--Cruise Director – Eric Dowis.

--Captain – Frank Martinsen.

--3,700 assorted passengers, with 1,100 plus of them being children under age 18.

EMBARKATION

Since we did the same cruise last year and embarkation was chaotic we arrived in Galveston plenty early, and were pleasantly surprised to see that the driveway was for the most part cleared out. We were able to pull all the way forward and found a porter to take our luggage with no problems. I stayed at the terminal with the carry-ons while Jim drove over to EZ Cruise Parking (reserved in advance on their website) to park the car. While I was waiting I got into trouble! I had Bennie the RCCL Traveling Bear with me on this trip, and I decided to take a picture of him under a sign that said Terminal 2. OOPS! I guess the middle aged lady with the blue beanie baby could be considered a security risk, so no pictures of the terminal!

Jim walked back to the terminal after parking the car, as we know from past experience the two block walk is much faster than waiting for the shuttle. This was our first cruise as Platinum C&A Members, and our first time to do Priority check-in and boarding. I LOVED it! The lines weren’t long in the regular boarding area, but it was fun to be among the first passengers on board. We were able to wander around the empty ship, purchase my Coke sticker, make spa appointments, and eat all without any wait or crowds.

THE SHIP

This was my 4th time to cruise on a Voyager class ship (Explorer, Mariner, & Voyager twice). The Voyager, although there is much chatter about her being an “older” ship, is still beautiful, well designed, and in great shape. We enjoy the logical layout of the Voyager class ships and appreciate the attention to detail in the public areas. Before we took our first cruise on this class of ship I thought the Royal Promenade was about the most ridiculous thing I had ever heard of anyone putting on a ship. I quickly discovered how wrong I was, and the Royal Promenade is one of my favorite areas to eat, drink, shop, and people-watch. The Royal Promenade on the Voyager is almost identical to the one on the Explorer and slightly different than the one on the Mariner. I appreciate the attention to detail in the different bars, and the cute, quirky touches such as the painter hanging from the wall, the British phone booth, and the street signs.

I think Royal Caribbean does a great job of using the public areas for multiple forms of entertainment. For instance, the Royal Promenade is used for parades and street parties, and Studio B transforms from an ice rink to a dance floor to a large stage for The Quest. The design of the Voyager class ships for the most part helps spread people out, and I seldom feel crowded when I’m on board. The exceptions to this occur in the usual spots…outside the dining rooms before dinner, outside the theater after a show, in the Royal Promenade when they have the sale tables out, and at the pools on sea days. You can walk the length of the ship without having to change decks on all but Deck 3, where Studio B fills the width of the ship. Something I dislike about the Voyager class ships is a lack of connection to the sea in many of the public areas. Because of the design of the Royal Promenade many of the lounges lack outward windows. When the seas are calm as they were on our cruise, you could easily imagine yourself to be in any land-based resort.

The ship was very clean and well maintained. I noticed minimal wear and tear throughout the ship, and maintenance crews were constantly working on things such as varnishing railings, painting (more on that later!), and replacing carpet.

CREW

I’ve enjoyed the staff and crew on both of my Voyager cruises. Almost everyone I encountered was friendly and personable. Eric Dowis, the Cruise Director is for my tastes one of the best we’ve sailed with. I think his Georgia accent and his sense of humor are a perfect fit for a cruise with a large number of Texans on board. Captain Frank Martinsen was the man in charge again this year. He was very approachable in passing and always had a corny joke on the daily update. Everyone else I encountered on the ship…in the bars, dining room, guest services, maintenance, etc. were all very friendly and helpful.

 

CABIN

We had cabin 9318, a JS located in the center of the hump on the starboard side. We both enjoy the space in a JS, and we find we spend a lot of time on our balcony when we’re on a full ship, which we usually are. I thought the balcony of 9318 was slightly (maybe a foot or so) deeper than the non-hump balcony we had last year (1340). Since 9318 is located in the center of the hump the balcony is totally enclosed and private. We had an unimpeded view forward and aft, but we had to lean out over the railing to see where we were going or where we’d been.

Our cabin steward, Pedro, was very good. He brought us an extra large ice bucket and kept it full to accommodate my flavored creamer since the “refrigerators” on board do anything but refrigerate! Our cabin was always quickly cleaned when we left the room, even when we kept strange hours. The air conditioning worked almost too well! We had a hard time getting the cabin warm enough to tolerate during the day, although we did turn it down at night. The bed was comfortable but I find the down comforters to be too heavy and we eventually pulled the extra blanket out of the closet and slept with that instead of the comforter.

For some reason our RCTV to check our on-board account never worked on this cruise. It’s not that big a deal, but I do like to monitor it on occasion so that if there is a problem I can rectify it early. We missed the chocolates, but more because I usually bag them up and bring them home than because we ate it every night! There was just something about unwrapping a Royal Caribbean chocolate a couple weeks after the fact that helped with the cruise withdrawal!

A few words about JS perks…we noticed two things that were different from our JS last year. There is now an in-cabin coffee and tea service which we never used, and there were robes provided in all JS cabins. According to the Royal Caribbean website we should have had bathroom amenities, but unless you consider a bar of soap and some very scratchy toilet paper an amenity, we didn’t have any! We had silver cruise cards that had “Junior Suite” across the top, but our luggage tags were "normal." Apparently some people are calling RCCL and are being told Priority Boarding is a JS perk. At least in Galveston, JS passengers go through the regular embarkation line. We were able to use the Priority boarding line because we're Platinum C&A members, not because we had a Junior Suite.

One minor annoyance we had was that they did some balcony maintenance (touch-up painting) on Thursday while we were ashore in Jamaica. We were notified on Wednesday that the work would be happening, and when we returned to the ship about 1:30 we found a sign on the balcony door that the balcony was “temporarily” out of service, which we expected. What we didn’t expect was that the sign remained there until we left the ship on Sunday morning! The paint had dried and we went ahead and used the balcony anyway, but the sign telling us to stay off our balcony was a fixture for the second half of the cruise. I hope it was just an oversight, because if I had paid for a JS and had an unusable balcony for a big chunk of the cruise I wouldn’t have been a happy sailor!

FOOD…AKA WINING AND DINING

We had second seating for dinner, which on the Voyager sailing from Galveston is at 8:00 p.m. Our eventual dining room was the Magic Flute, deck five (upper level) of the 3 level restaurant. I say eventual because we started out with what was for me a disappointing table assignment. I had e-mailed RCCL Dining and made a request for a certain table location (not a big deal) and passenger configuration (pretty important). Neither of my requests was honored. I understand that it can be extremely difficult to seat everyone on such a full ship, but I also didn’t want to spend the week feeling like we couldn’t have good dinner conversations with our table mates.

Because I’m an elementary school principal we have to travel during the very busy school vacation times even though we cruise without children. I had requested a table with mostly adults or adults and older (teenage) children. I love little children, and I see 1,000 of them every day, which is why I didn’t want to sit with 7 year olds at late seating dinner on my vacation! The adults were delightful and personable, but their time was spent dealing with food and crankiness issues, so we ended up feeling like we were at a large table by ourselves. Lingering over dinner with good wine and good conversation is a huge part of the cruise experience for us, so I did something I haven’t done before…I requested a table change.

I spoke personally with the “table assignment guy” (sorry, I don’t know his title!) on Monday morning, and he took the time to search the computer while I was there to find a great table for us. We were reassigned to a table for 11 with a family from Phoenix (3 adults and 2 older teens) and a group (mom sailing with three adult daughters) from Dallas. We had a great time with our table mates and enjoyed the attention and magic tricks of our waiter Anil and his assistant Jose. Our head waiter Joao assisted with wine service and helped tremendously with a problem and a special request.

We enjoyed all the dinners in the dining room. The configuration of the menus has changed from our last two RCCL cruises, but most of the menu items are familiar. I thought the food was good, but not spectacular. Of course, I’m usually such a glutton with the bread basket that I could probably have stopped there and not suffered! The menu now has the $14.95 Chops Filet as an option, which nobody at our table tried. The only menu I “struggled” with was on Tuesday, which I think had Lamb Osso Bucco and some other choices that don’t stick out in my memory and didn’t appeal to me. I ended up having a choice from the always available side of the menu that night.

We had a bottle of wine with dinner each night, and since everybody at our table was ordering there was a fair amount of sampling going on. I’ve had a hard time with the wine options on previous cruises, but most of our selections were very good and prices for our choices were about what you would expect to pay in a good land based restaurant. We had a Cakebread Chardonnay that was wonderful, and the Stag’s Leap Cabernet was also very good. We did make a bad choice one night with a Dry Creek Meritage. Bottle #1 was definitely bad, and bottle # 2 was marginal, so neither of us drank it. Joao came to the rescue the following night when he returned our receipt to us for the poor wine. I had hoped that was how it would be handled, especially given the amount of wine we purchased during the week, but we were still very appreciative. Joao also assisted us the last night of the cruise and helped us buy a bottle of wine for my mom who was boarding the Voyager the day we disembarked. We were a little leery but I’ve talked to her and the wine was delivered to her table Sunday evening with no problems!

We attended the Portofino Murder Mystery Dinner this year. The evening included wine, entertainment (the mystery), and a limited menu. This was a really fun experience! The evening started in High Notes with canapés and champagne. The cast set the stage for the murder during this time and then everyone moved to Portofino where we were seated at long tables for 12. The food was excellent. We started with antipasto, chose soup or Caesar salad, filet or tiger shrimp, and ended with Tiramisu. The mystery was corny but fun. At the end everyone submitted their choice for “whodunit,” and 8 winners were drawn from those who guessed correctly. Each winner received a bottle of wine or champagne.

We like eating in the Dining Room whenever possible, but we did find ourselves up in the Windjammer a few times. In my opinion the food is adequate, but it is what it is…a buffet. For lunch there is always a carving station, and they serve pastas and entrees that change daily. In the back (Island Grill) section of the Windjammer you can get hamburgers, hot dogs, and pizza. Breakfast in the Windjammer includes a made-to-order omelet station which we didn’t try.

We ate lunch in the dining room twice…it’s only open on Sea Days. Lunch in the dining room has the same menu each day or you can choose from the salad bar/made to order pasta station. I find the lunch menu to be pretty “blah,” and this is a meal where I really miss the great pastas they serve on Princess. Johnny Rockets is a good alternative for lunch. We ate there on a port day after an excursion, and it was good and filling with no wait! They keep the onion rings and French fries coming, so make sure you take an appetite with you!

Another food option on the Voyager is the Promenade Café for pastries, sandwiches, cookies, and pizza. This is also where you’ll find the Seattle’s Best Coffee available 24 hours a day. This is THE BEST coffee I’ve had on a ship. Any ship. Any where. Any time. It makes getting up in the morning a bit easier. Did I mention I like the Seattle’s Best coffee?

 

WEATHER

Our weather started out just MISERABLE! We had muster drill in a blinding thunderstorm, and we had our own sailaway party shivering on our balcony because there certainly wasn’t anybody enjoying the pool deck! This was by far the worst weather I have ever experienced for sailaway. Since the long-range forecasts hadn’t looked good for the week, I ended up being very pleasantly surprised because it had cleared off by early Monday, and with the exception of a monsoon that hit in the mountains in Jamaica and a short downpour on Friday afternoon, the weather was great all week. When we sail in March we’ve learned to expect pretty windy conditions and moderate seas, but our cruise didn’t fit that description at all. There was no wind to speak of, and the “roughest” the seas got all week was 3 foot swells. For most of the cruise the ocean had the appearance of a lake.

ENTERTAINMENT AND ACTIVITIES

The entertainment on our cruise was something of a disappointment to me, not because it was bad, but because almost all of it was exactly the same as it was a year ago. Both production shows and the ice show were repeats, as was the parade and a couple of the guest performers. We skipped several things because we’d seen them before.

Our Welcome Aboard Show featured a comedian named Chas Elstner who we didn’t care for at all last year so we bypassed his show this trip. If you’re traveling with children, this comedian made a lot of body and car sound effects that the 10 year old boys found hysterical but left the rest of us wondering what time the show would end!

On Monday evening MOSAIC performed, and they were excellent. We saw this show a couple years ago on the Mariner, but it was worth repeating. This group of musicians sounds like they’re playing instruments, but they produce all the sound with their voices. The magicians on our cruise were excellent. The farewell show was also very good. There was a funny comedian, and then former Olympic gymnast Lance Ringnauld performed. I skeptically wondered if a gymnast could really do anything on a ship that would be impressive, but Lance did. It was very entertaining.

The Ice Odyssey Showtime was amazing even though it was a repeat for us, and featured very talented skaters. If you can only make time for one show during the week, make it the ice show. All of them I have seen left me astounded by the quality of the skating and the things the skaters are able to do on a very small rink. This year we sat at the end of the rink in the first row, and really got a sense of how fast the skaters are moving on that tiny little patch of ice.

We skipped The Quest on this trip. I usually find it funny, but for me now that I’ve seen it a few times they all kind of seem the same. It’s just not as much fun when you know what’s going to happen. We spent some time at the Pig & Whistle listening to Derek Lewis. I’d say he was one of the entertainment highlights of the trip. He has a huge following on the Galveston cruises, and there were some folks who I think spent every evening in the pub! We also attended the Island Frenzy parade, and watched from our favorite viewing spot on one of the little balconies by the forward elevators on Deck 6. There wasn’t a parade on the first night this year, only the last night.

There were tons of things we didn’t go to, but our Spring Break cruises are more about relaxing and getting away than going full speed and cramming every minute full of activity. We missed the 70’s Disco Street Party, the Love and Marriage Game Show, a Country and Western Party, and loads of other evening events. We didn’t participate in any of the pool games. As a matter of fact we didn’t even spend any time at the pools! Most of our time at sea was spent relaxing and reading on our balcony. There was a lot to choose from, but we just wanted to relax and watch the ocean go by. We did play trivia one day, but we decided we absolutely stink and maybe that’s best left to the pros!

We did manage to make it to the casino quite a few times! It was jam-packed! Jim was able to find a spot and a little bit of luck at a Blackjack table. I continued my Spring Break love affair with the Wheel of Fortune slot machines! Again this year we walked off the ship with more cash than we arrived with, so as far as gambling goes I’d call it a successful cruise!

Our Cruise Critic Meet and Mingle was held on Monday at 11:00 in the High Notes Lounge. It was well attended, but I was sitting in the “wrong” place and never really got to meet many of the people I had been chatting with for 14 months. I did notice there was much less food than we had last year. Alas, no prizes for me, but my junk drawer now contains two more RCCL notepads on a string!

PORTS AND EXCURSIONS

We chose RCCL excursions in all 3 ports. I like the ease of booking everything on the internet ahead of time, and not having to spend a lot of time making contacts and doing research.

Cozumel We did the Three Reef Snorkel by Boat. This excursion left right from the pier, and it wasn’t too crowded. They took us to some of the shallower reefs. It was a nice and well-run excursion, but I thought the coral was just so-so. The shallow reefs suffered a lot of damage in Wilma and it will take time for them to regenerate.

Georgetown, Grand Cayman – We chose the Catamaran Sail and Snorkel. This excursion was excellent. We went out on a beautiful Catamaran with easy access to the water via stairs or diving platforms. I enjoyed this experience a lot because there were no other snorkelers in the area and we were free to putter around on our own within sight of the boat. I have much more fun doing this than trying to follow a guide while I’m getting kicked by another swimmer’s fins!

Montego Bay, Jamaica – Wehad a difficult time with our Jamaica excursion because two that we originally selected were cancelled! Eventually we decided on a river tubing trip and it was fun, but definitely not for thrill seekers. Well, maybe the bus ride in the mountains provided some thrills, but the tubing was tame! The river was very low, but the scenery was beautiful and the stories and antics of our guide were entertaining. He gave all the women “pedicures” with limestone from the river bed, and he also shimmied up a tree to pick coconuts so we could taste fresh coconut milk. All in all it was a pleasant and well organized tour.

HIGHLIGHTS AND PLEASANT SURPRISES

I saw two things I’ve never seen from my balcony before. The first was a very impressive water spout a few miles away. We were in sunshine, but you could see the huge thunderstorm in the distance. It was fun to watch, but I’m glad we weren’t any closer! I took a bunch of pictures. The second unusual sight was an Orca whale just a few feet from the side of the ship in the Gulf of Mexico. I couldn’t believe my eyes! At first I thought I had spied a dolphin, but then the whale surfaced and I could see the distinctive black and white pattern followed by a beautiful spray out of his blowhole! Unfortunately by the time I grabbed my camera he didn’t resurface, so no pics.

I almost cancelled this cruise because of the out-of-control and abusive teen behavior on the Voyager last Spring Break. The experience this year couldn’t have been more different. The staff had added a ton of activities to keep everyone occupied, and if the elevator mayhem started I never saw it or it was nipped in the bud before it even got going. I noticed numerous skating sessions each day, teen-only sessions in the Vault and on the ice rink, and other activities that would appeal to teens and tweens. Maybe we just had a different group of kids and that was why we never saw any poor behavior, maybe it was the extra activities, maybe it was the extra security, or maybe it went on and we just didn’t see it. All I know is that we never saw organized games of elevator tag, didn’t see kids sprawled out in the elevators for hours eating and leaving their trash, and we didn’t get told to do something obscene to ourselves, so I was happy!

Disembarkation couldn’t have been more of a contrast to last year, and it’s hard to imagine getting off a ship could be any easier. In 2008 we got in the car 2 hours and 20 minutes after our tag color was called, so I was kind of hoping for the best but prepared for the worst. This year we were called at 8:35, and we put the last piece of luggage in the Explorer at 9:00! By 9:10 we were walking into the Galvez to visit with my mom for a while before she boarded the Voyager.

RANDOM THOUGHTS

This was our first cruise as Platinum C&A members so we got to take advantage of a couple perks that we enjoyed. I loved being able to use the Priority check-in and boarding, and I got a kick out of wandering around an almost completely empty Voyager of the Seas. We took advantage of the Platinum/Diamond/D+ lounge for departure and that seemed to help a bit with putting us at the head of the line coming off the ship. It was also nice to wait in a dining room with coffee and pastries! The other perk we took advantage of was the P/D/D+ Luncheon on Saturday. It was interesting and relaxing to have a leisurely lunch with an officer. We did over-dress a bit for this…the invitation said “Smart Casual – No Shorts Please.” Being the rule follower I am that meant I pulled on a sundress and made Jim wear nice slacks and a jacket. OOPS! Most people showed up looking like they just ran down from the pool. Oh well, it wasn’t the first time I over or underdressed for something, and it probably won’t be the last!

The annoyances and disappointment on this trip were few and petty. We didn’t get our luggage until 6:00…it happens. Our dinner request wasn’t honored…it got fixed. I can’t bring a bottle or two of wine on board with me…just find something on the wine list. The “nickel and diming” was more obvious…it’s the economy. I did think the cutbacks were noticeable, but that’s probably because I knew what things had been common practice before so when items were absent or at an extra cost I noticed the difference. I was previously in a hurry to reach Diamond C&A status, but with the changes that were announced last week there doesn’t seem to be quite as much incentive to rush!

We’re lucky to have the Voyager sailing from Galveston! I love the convenience of driving an hour to get on a ship. When you only have a week, flying makes everything more complicated. Voyager is a beautiful ship with a great staff, and we’ve enjoyed almost everything about our two cruises on her. That said, we’ve decided to give the Carnival Conquest a try next year. I’m limited to school vacation times for my cruises, and I was able to reserve a comparable cabin on the Conquest for $1,500 less than the Voyager for Spring Break 2010. I’m a creature of habit and I like being on a familiar ship, but at the same time I’m excited about trying something new. If I don’t like it, you’ll find me back on the Voyager or another RCCL ship sailing from Galveston. Well, that is until I retire…then you might find me sailing from someplace completely different when the prices are lower and the children are in school!

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Water Spouts are really exciting to see. I've seen several with a number at one time around our oil rig years ago.

 

I can see where you would want to be away from the younger kids on Spring Break.

 

Great review!!!

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Odd...I just took a look at how my review posted. I have ABSOLUTELY NO IDEA why it's a hodge-podge of colors and font sizes!:confused: I don't seem to be able to change it, so I apologize if it hurts your eyes!

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Thanks for posting the nice review! We also sailed the Voyager on 3/1 and had a fantastic time. I know what you mean about seeing the same entertainers as previous years. We sailed the Mariner 3 years in a row and saw the same shows all 3 years! You mentioned Derek at the Pig & Whistle (who was great), but not Phil Anderson in the Schooner Bar. Did you have a chance to see him? He was one of the highlights of the trip for us.

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Thanks for posting the nice review! We also sailed the Voyager on 3/1 and had a fantastic time. I know what you mean about seeing the same entertainers as previous years. We sailed the Mariner 3 years in a row and saw the same shows all 3 years! You mentioned Derek at the Pig & Whistle (who was great), but not Phil Anderson in the Schooner Bar. Did you have a chance to see him? He was one of the highlights of the trip for us.

 

No, we never managed to see Phil Anderson. Sounds like we missed a good entertainer!

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Hey Cindy, glad you had fun!

 

Do you mind sending the picture of Bennie and I?

 

I definitely will send it! Is your e-mail address the same? I also wanted to ask a question that I wasn't sure I should ask on the boards.

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