I don't know. Maybe I'm fickle. Maybe I just enjoy something about every ship I cruise on. I'm just happy to be at sea. Sure, there have been some I liked more than others, but generally, I just like being on a ship. Ship historian and author Frank Braynard, when asked years ago which ship was his favorite, said, "The ship I'm on." I think I understand. But the thing I must begin doing more of is giving myself a broader berth (if you'll excuse the nautical reference.) You would think I'd already know that after so many times on so many ships.
First, let me give any newcomers some background, so you know where I'm coming from and what my cruising background is. My husband, Hans, cut his teeth at a very tender age on some of the old Dutch liners. Together, we've sailed on many HAL ships, one Celebrity ship, NCL (the new and the old), the late/great Premier and Renaissance ships, Crystal, Deilmann and, most notably, Cunard, having done three transatlantic crossings alone on the QE2 in 2002. We've visited many ships in port in New York over the years, such as Princess, Celebrity and P&O. We also tried Radisson earlier this year. My last cruise/crossing was in late April on the new Queen Mary 2, so this ship was particularly interesting to me in terms of size versus cruise experience. I think Hans and I have been on over thirty cruises, but I have not counted them up in a long time, so I may be off a bit.
The 138,000-ton (length: 1020', beam: 157.5', draft: 29', cruising speed: 23.7 knots) 3,114-guest Voyager of the Seas was the world's largest cruise ship when it entered service in November 1999. It no longer holds that distinction, and from what I've read, the ultra-Voyager class will supercede it, as well as other brands' up-and-coming mega ships. It's a big ship …. a giant, really …. but I never felt crowded or the ship never felt like it had too many people onboard. There were no lines, no waiting.
I knew I'd gotten a very good deal on this particular trip, a five-nighter out of Port Liberty to the Canadian Maritimes (Halifax, as always, was nice to visit again, St John, New Brunswick was a snooze), but I wanted to do some research on just how great a bargain this ship is compared to, say (and you knew this was coming) the QM2. Now, I understand that these are two very different ships from two very different companies. I enjoyed my trips on Cunard, but was always aware that I was paying dearly for the privilege of stepping foot on a Cunarder. Not until I came home and crunched some stats did I see what a great cruise bargain this Voyager trip actually was. I'll give you the numbers later on, and I'm not going to base my review entirely on what a great "deal" this cruise was. I could take the Staten Island ferry, be on the water for not too much money and be happy. What I was most impressed with was the ship and the cruise experience, and that's what I'll concentrate on. I'd never heard a negative word about the Voyager from cruisers I trust, and now I know why. I'll give it up early: There's not a thing I didn't like about this ship and this cruise experience. I'm just sorry we didn't opt for the nine nighter to the Caribbean instead.
I keep a travel journal every time I vacation somewhere and on the first day onboard the Voyager, I wrote "Well, well, well - I thought I'd like this ship, 'thought I'd find it an interesting diversion from what I'm used to, but I never thought I'd be this impressed. The ship is alive, the service and the staff are gracious, unassuming and natural. Nothing is a problem." Service anywhere on the ship during our stay was easy and breezy. There was never that Cunard "smelly gym socks" look from anyone when you asked a question or had a problem.
The appearance of this ship is probably what surprised me the most. Inside and out, it has curves and grace. Yes, it's a big ship (just like the QM2), but it's design lines move and flow. Exteriorly, around the Viking Crown Lounge area, around the pools and hot tubs, on both port and starboard side amidships, are fluidity and visual appeal. Onboard, one almost gets the feeling that this ship has a waistline! The three tiered opera-themed main dining room is just stunning, with lots of curves, color, detail and eye interest. This dining room, all three decks, is almost voluptuous! May I compare this room with the comparable one on the QM2? Those of you who know me and have also been on both ships knew I would. The Britannia Dining room is squared, straight and not too terribly dynamic when compared to the Voyager's corresponding space. Maybe this type of straightforward design is more "proper" for a transatlantic liner? Someone who knows ships once said that any naval architect with a ruler in his hand should be slapped on the knuckles with said ruler. I see his point.
The Voyager has received much publicity for its innovative approach to cruising, with an onboard ice-skating rink, a Johnny Rocket's and a rock-climbing wall. Hans had always scoffed and thought it was silly to have an ice rink onboard, but he tried a free skating session and he loved it. He had not had on a pair of skates for about ten years, and had never used figure skates, but the Voyager was able to accommodate him with a pair of hockey skates. He was a little shaky at first, but once he got his sea/skate legs, he really enjoyed himself. I really wanted to try this, too, as he was obviously having so much fun, but alas, not this time. I just sat and took photos, and I had a good time doing that. Hans mentioned afterwards that ice-skating onboard is a great cardio workout. Ice-skating on a ship, Hans will do. Go to the gym on a ship, Hans won't do.
We also went to the "Ice Jammin'" ice show in "Studio B", where professional figure skaters perform on a rink about one-fourth of a regulation ice rink. How they pull off such breath-taking stunts on such a small patch of ship real estate is simply amazing. This is truly a "must-see."
The Voyager has what's called a Royal Promenade, which one would imagine is a general, all-purpose public area. Most ships have something comparable. However, the Royal Promenade is not just a "shopping mall" (as I've heard it described.) It's a real gathering place where one can walk around, people watch, stop for a bite to eat or just a snack, or yes … shop. Here I have to say that all of the shops were very well stocked and ready for cruise shoppers. I remember one crossing on the QE2 when the souvenir clothing shop was just about bare. The reason given was that the ship was going into dry dock soon. Sorry, but that's not a good enough reason from a passenger's standpoint.
On the first night of our cruise, RCI pulled off a fun "Mardi Gras"-style event on the Royal Prom, complete with music, jugglers, costumes and entertainment. The Prom is probably the best people-watching spot I've found yet at sea. When there's nothing else you want to do but just hang out and relax among your fellow passengers, this is the place to be. Several times, I went down to the Prom to grab a cookie and some coffee, or a self-serve soft ice cream cone and just veg out. Besides being so amazingly functional, this area is whimsical, fun and exciting both in décor, layout and use. This area is naturally conducive to striking up a conversation with strangers. "Is this your first cruise?" Is this your first time on this ship?" Is this your first time on RCI?" I met a lovely woman who is a lurker on this very newsgroup and also a New Yorker, and we had several afternoon get-togethers of shopping, noshing, talking newsgroup stuff and cruising in general. She has also cruised on many different ships, and I think I'm safe in saying she also loved the Voyager.
Hans and I found ourselves in the Schooner Bar or the Aquarium Lounge for pre-dinner martinis. After dinner or a show, we enjoyed the Connoisseur Cigar Club for drinks and Hans' cigar. I particularly liked High Notes and the Crows Nest in the Viking Crown lounge area on Deck 14.
Our cabin was a junior suite, #9624, which had lots of floor space, a great balcony and plenty of storage. There was a walk-in closet, lots of drawers, and a bath with tub, queen size bed and sitting area. A cabin safe and small fridge came in handy, too. Our cabin was located close to a bank of main elevators, one deck above Royal Caribbean Online, where I used the internet access computers ($.50 a minute) to e-mail our pet sitter about my Sophie every day, and on a deck that put us close to the public rooms above us and below us without schlepping very much at all. The ease of onboard/online communications on Voyager was another distinct contrast to the QM2 and the inability to use their Internet access in their computer rooms to connect to my web-based domain mail account. I wound up using the interactive TV system in our QM2 cabin to send e-mail. Another thing I really liked was the complete soundproofing of our cabin from both the deck hallway and the cabins on either side of us. I don't think I've ever been on such a quiet ship in that respect. And another thing I liked was the presence of security. Special staff frequently appeared on the cabin decks to quash any rowdy, loud or disturbing behavior. Must have worked, because we saw none.
Food service was wonderful and all encompassing. There were no gaps in time on this ship when you could not find a bite to eat. The Windjammer Café served complete breakfasts from early in the morning until 11:30 AM for us late-risers (we ARE on vacation, you know.) and lunches daily until 5 PM. Of course, the Royal Prom had several different types of food service available, too, from a meal to light snacks to just coffee and a sweet. The scope and variety of food available in all venues was fairly impressive and, once again, the service staff in the restaurant areas never lapsed. I cannot say this about the food service on our April QM2 trip. In fact, the one thing I commented on at the time I wrote my review of the ship is that the service MUST stretch to meet the demands of a premium ocean liner. When I was onboard, there was still a long way to go, and I blamed this on the ship's newness. I'll be onboard again in May of 2005. If the service has not picked up by then, I'm afraid it will never be up to snuff, as this has been a major complaint from QM2 passengers. To bother to build such an elegant and costly ship and not provide the kind of service anyone can get for one-third the price on a ship like the Voyager is shameful.
Having said that, please let me review some numbers with you. Our QM2 cabin, a hull balcony category B4 six day transatlantic trip will cost $5,498 for both of us including air to London. Our junior suite on the Voyager costs us just a tad over $2,000 in total. We had more room in the Voyager's junior suite than the QM2's B4 cabin (252 square feet including balcony on the QM2 compared to 346 square feet on the Voyager.) As they say, do the math.
Was the QM2 worth it for me? Yes, I wanted to see the ship. I'm not sorry I booked a cruise on her, but having experienced other forms of cruising on other lines, I don't think I'll be such a regular with Cunard anymore. In summary, I'm very glad I tried RCI, am so looking forward to trying other RCI ships, more so than I am sailing with Cunard again. And will I sail with Cunard again? Sure, but with a much more open mind. I will definitely be back on RCI.