In 1999, when Royal Caribbean's 3,114-passenger Voyager of the Seas entered service as the largest cruise ship in the world, it was heralded as the most revolutionary vessel ever built, forever changing the world of cruising with such never-before-seen features as an ice skating rink/TV studio/concert arena, rock-climbing wall, in-line skating track, horizontal atrium (now known as the Royal Promenade), and inside cabins with a view.
The rock-climbing walls are now aboard every Royal Caribbean ship, and the ice skating rink and other features can also be enjoyed on the line's other four Voyager-class ships, three Freedom-class ships and pair of Oasis-class vessels, but Voyager of the Seas is still mind boggling, memorable and exciting -- isn't that what they say about the first of anything this revolutionary?
The three decks of the ship's elegant main restaurant are named for famous operas -- Carmen, La Boheme and the Magic Flute -- and feature themed decor including lavish opera costumes, a crystal chandelier and grand staircase. For dinner, passengers can choose between assigned early (5:30 p.m.) or late (8 p.m.) dining, or opt for RCI's My Time Dining, in which you pick a preferred mealtime (anytime between 5:15 and 8:30 p.m.), but can change your reservations on a daily basis or simply walk in when you're hungry. (Note: Those opting for My Time Dining will need to pre-pay gratuities.) The restaurant is open seating for everyone at breakfast and lunch every day.
The food was excellent (including flavorful low-fat selections like grilled salmon teriyaki and at least one vegetarian entree each night) and service was friendly and lively, with waiters bringing a second entree and/or dessert with broad smiles.
Portofino is an alternative Italian restaurant serving an array of delectable dishes from antipasto to tiramisu. There's a $20 per-person charge, and reservations are required; reserve early in the cruise -- or online pre-cruise -- or you may miss the boat. Interestingly, Voyager does not have a Chops Grille; Royal Caribbean's steakhouse restaurant was introduced on later Voyager-class ships.
Johnny Rockets, the 50s-style diner with red Naugahyde booths, jukeboxes at the tables and Formica counters, is a favorite restaurant for lunch or a snack. It dishes out freshly made burgers, cheeseburgers, chicken sandwiches and chili cheese fries, plus scrumptious milkshakes and malts. There is a $4.95 per person charge to eat at Johnny Rockets -- whether you eat in the restaurant or order for take-out. Beverages (including the fabulous milkshakes) are available for an extra charge. Johnny Rockets has indoor and outdoor seating, with the waiters and cooks doing impromptu mini-shows for all passengers.
The Windjammer Cafe on Deck 11 offers casual, quick-out-the-door, bountiful buffet breakfast and lunch with a side of panoramic ocean views. A dinner buffet is available in its aft section, the Island Grill -- ditto for the views.
Cafe Promenade on the Royal Promenade is a sidewalk cafe -- great for people watching while you munch -- that serves continental breakfast, sandwiches, pizza and pastries. If you are on a budget but would like to enjoy something cool and creamy, Royal Caribbean does have a free, 24-hour frozen yogurt stations in the Windjammer Café and on the Pool Deck.
Royal Caribbean's room service options are available around the clock via 24-hour menus that offer a range of snacks and sandwiches. At breakfast, continental dishes, along with a handful of egg entrees, are available both in cabins and suites. Items off the main dining room menu can be ordered at dinner. There is no charge for room service between 5 a.m. and midnight (though a buck or two gratuity is recommended); late-night orders incur a $3.95 fee.
Punctuated by two atria, Voyager of the Seas' most compelling space is the Royal Promenade on Deck 5 -- a horizontal atrium that has the look and feel of an upscale shopping mall. There are designer boutiques, a sidewalk cafe, a Ben & Jerry's ice cream counter, a British-style pub and sports bar and even a red Morgan sports car, which used to belong to Richard Fain, Royal Caribbean's chairman and CEO.
A fabulous space, The Royal Promenade is four decks high, longer than a football field and wider than three lanes of traffic. There are no windows, but it's always dazzlingly lit up and sets the scene for dance parties at night.
A $10-million art collection graces the Promenade, 11-deck Centrum atrium, lounges and other public spaces. A notable piece in the Centrum atrium is "The Dancer & The Tutu" by Larry Kirkland, consisting of two integrated sculptures of stainless steel, aluminum cable, acrylic, glass and gold and silver leaf with transmitted lights.
Our favorite lounges were the nautical-inspired Schooner Bar (a staple on Royal Caribbean ships), the intimate Champagne Bar (seating for 52) for a pre-dinner glass of bubbly, and the Viking Crown Lounge (with seating for 335) up on deck 14 for panoramic views of the sea and port arrivals and departures. The Skylight Wedding Chapel is on the highest point of the ship (to echo the feelings of those using it?) located just above the Viking Crown Lounge.
The Aquarium Bar, whose tanks are filled with 56 tons of saltwater, was devoid of its beautiful tropical fish during our sailing as the tanks had undergone maintenance and it would be a couple of weeks before the fish could be returned to it, according to a crew member.
The Casino Royale has nearly 300 slots and tables for blackjack, craps, roulette and Caribbean Stud Poker. Internet access costs 65 cents a minute, or you can buy one of five packages of between 60 and 500 minutes for $35 to $150, respectively. The two-story library/Internet Cafe has a dozen computer stations, and Wi-Fi access is available at six onboard hotspots, including the Schooner Bar, Promenade Café and Solarium; unfortunately, Internet access is not available in cabins. Other public spaces include a card room, photo and art gallery, conference center and a movie theater hidden away on Deck 2. We would have liked to find a self-service launderette onboard, particularly in light of Voyager's new nine-night Caribbean itineraries, but alas there is none, so pack accordingly if you want to avoid laundry service fees.
Where do you even begin? It can be very hard to relax on Voyager of the Seas -- even on sea days -- because of the head-spinning array of activities that run from dawn to dusk and beyond! The ship's entertainment staff offers an intriguing blend of options, and everyone, from the most traditional passenger to the completely contemporary traveler, will find something to do.
Highlights? During the day, you'll find plenty of activities, such as bingo, dance lessons (salsa dancing), art auctions, seminars (on everything from healthy eating to gemstones), belly flop and sexy man contests, rock-climbing wall competitions, bridge play, jewelry-making workshops and films in the tiny cinema. Poolside, a live band occasionally plays a blend of Caribbean and American songs. However, Royal Caribbean does not offer much in the way of onboard enrichment.
Nighttime sees a similar variety of entertainment options. The gorgeous La Scala Theater is a state-of-the-art 1,347-seat show lounge inspired by the legendary one in Milan, Italy. Decor elements include a Murano glass chandelier and a stage curtain in velvet with jewel-like embellishments. Sightlines are excellent. It sets the scene for excellent Broadway-style production shows with a cast of 16 singers and dancers. The revues, including one with the music of Webber, Bernstein, Ellington and other greats, got enthusiastic standing ovations. The ice skating show is not to be missed, not only because of the skill of the cast of nine outstanding international skaters, but because, who in their wildest dreams would have thought that one would ever have a chance to see an ice-skating show at sea?
Things are jumping late into the night at The Vault, a two-level dance club with a futuristic theme. High Notes is the aptly named club a party band playing pop and light rock until well after midnight. A guitarist entertains in the British Pig & Whistle pub -- anyone for a sing-along? For those who want to catch the big game, Scoreboard on the Royal Promenade and the 19th Hole in the Viking Crown Lounge area have satellite TV.
Royal Caribbean passengers are charged $12 per person, per day ($14.25 for suite guests). Gratuities can be prepaid or will be added on a daily basis to passengers' SeaPass accounts during the cruise. Passengers can modify or remove gratuities by visiting the guest services desk while onboard. A 15 percent gratuity is automatically added to bar tabs.
|Fitness and Recreation|
Active sorts will find everything under the sun on Voyager of the Seas. You can practice your figure eights in the ice skating rink; go in-line skating on the rollerblade track; play basketball or volleyball in the full-length sports court; climb to 200 feet over the sea in the rock-climbing wall (if you've never tried it, no worries -- they give you a lesson before you set off); and practice your golf swings at the 9-hole miniature golf and a golf simulator. The ship also has three pools, six whirlpools and a jogging track (four times around equals a mile). One interesting note: One of the pools and a whirlpool have hydraulic lifts for the disabled.
The 15,000-plus-square-foot, Steiner-operated Voyager Day Spa and Fitness Center has 14 massage and treatment rooms; a relaxation area with sea views; full-service beauty salon; oceanview workout area with stereo and TV monitors; a spacious workout area with nearly two dozen treadmills, plus recumbent cycles, elliptical machines, free weights, and televisions; and an aerobics area with wood-suspended floor, mirrored wall, two large-screen TV monitors and wrap-around windows. One of the spa's nicest features is its round hydrotherapy pool. The spa offers a full menu of exercise classes including various levels of aerobics (some classes incur a $10 charge). Prices for treatments were on the high end -- a 50-minute massage and/or facial will set you back $120; a hair cut was $75 (plus automatically included gratuity of 15 percent). Specialty cosmetic services, including Botox (from $350) and Restylane (from $700) injections for wrinkles and tooth whitening treatments (from $149), are also available.
Adjacent to the spa is the spacious, 10,000-square-foot, adults-only Solarium, one of our favorite spaces onboard. It's themed to ancient Greece with statues and mosaics, a pool and two whirlpools. It is the perfect place for an indolent morning at sea.
The ship's Adventure Ocean club rates as one of the finest children's facilities afloat with indoor and outdoor play areas. Indoors, the play area offers computers with Internet access, a rock-climbing wall, videos, books, a large video arcade, crafts area and more. Outdoors, the children have shuffleboard, deck checkers, tricycles and tic-tac-toe, not to mention Adventure Beach with a pirate ship splash pool and water slide. Teenagers have their own club and disco, Optix.
Royal Caribbean's Adventure Ocean Youth Program is a free, year-round children's program for kids 3 (must be toilet-trained) to 17, organized into five age groups. Aquanauts (the program for ages 3 to 5) may feature activities like "Alphabet Scavenger Hunt," story time and Adventure Theater acting classes by Camp Broadway. Explorers (ages 6 to 8) play backwards bingo, make gummy candies and learn about local customs of their ports of call and engage in basic science activities. Voyagers (ages 9 to 11) take backstage tours, play "List-o-Rama" and engage in science experiments that range from earthquakes to hailstorms. Even the teens are divided into two groups. Ages 12 to 14 have "open-mic" karaoke contests and a rock-wall challenge. Ages 15 to 17 has its own dance parties and arcade competitions. In addition, Royal Caribbean has partnered with Fisher Price, Mattel and Crayola to offer a variety of kid- and family-friendly games and activities for all ages.
Babysitting is available in group settings in the Adventure Ocean club from 10 p.m. to 1 a.m. for $5 an hour per child; children must be at least 3 years old. For in-cabin babysitting of children at least one years old, contact the Guest Relations Desk at least 24 hours in advance; available ship staff members supervise in-cabin sitting. The charge is $19 per hour for up to three children within the same family.
A soda package for children up to 18 years of age allows unlimited soft drinks (prices based on cruise length; $31.50 for a seven-night cruise).
Royal Caribbean generally appeals to a broad range of folks of all ages -- but with one characteristic in common: This ship is designed for the activity-minded. It also attracts a high percentage of families.
During the day, dress is casual. Evenings are either casual, smart casual or formal. On casual nights, suggested attire is sports shirts and slacks for men and sundresses or pants for women. On smart casual evenings, men should don jackets and tie, with women wearing dresses or pantsuits. On the one or two formal nights per cruise, men can choose from tuxedos or suits and ties, while woman usually wear cocktail dresses.
With so much to do onboard, chances are really good that you will actually just use your cabin for changing and sleeping, but it's nice to know that if you want to spend more time there, you will indeed be comfortable. Out of 1,557 staterooms, 939 of these have an ocean view (707 have balconies) and 618 are interior staterooms. Twenty-six cabins are wheelchair accessible. A hallmark on this ship's class is the Royal Promenade-facing staterooms (138 on this ship) that overlook that engaging thoroughfare -- these are a step up from the usual inside cabin. A warning however: Privacy is at a premium with these cabins because they do not have privacy glass windows. Also, due to the late-night reveling that goes on, all but night owls may find them noisy.
Inside cabins range from 160 to 167 square feet. Outside cabins come in three varieties: regular (180 square feet), large (211 square feet) and family (265 square feet -- it can sleep six with a sofa bed and a small second bedroom with bunk beds). Balcony cabins range from 173 to 188 square feet with 47 to 50 square foot private verandahs. Veranda furniture is limited to two chairs and a table.
Most standard staterooms have not been upgraded since the ship debuted, so the carpeting, curtains and upholstery feel somewhat worn but still functional. All standard staterooms are decorated in soft jewel tones with fine light woods and two pieces of artwork on the walls. All staterooms have two beds of medium firmness that convert to queen-size, private bath, phone, interactive TV, mini-bar, hair dryers and air conditioning/heat controls. Bathrooms are on the small side, but functional, and showers have those wonderful, half-round sliding doors as opposed to clingy curtains. Soap and shampoo are provided.
Moving up a notch is the Junior Suite. It's the smallest, coming in at 277 square ft. with a 69 square ft. balcony. Just a bit bigger than the standard balcony, the extra perks (beyond space) that come with the Junior Suite include a bathroom with tub and a bigger living room area. All suites get mini-bottles of Royal Caribbean's Vitality shampoo, conditioner and lotion and small toiletry kit (shower cap, cotton swabs, cotton balls, nail file.)
For those wanting concierge access, the remaining suites, definitely moving into the higher-ticket arena, start with the Royal Family Suite. At 610 square ft., its grand claim is two bedrooms plus a sitting room; the second bedroom has the usual twin to queen bed configuration plus two Pullmans that come down from the ceiling. Balconies are bigger, too, at 234 square feet.
The Grand Suite is just a larger "junior," but it's quite a bit larger at 381 square ft. and features a 95 square-foot balcony. The Owner's Suite offers more amenities and features even beyond increased squared footage; passengers booking this category of accommodations get a bathroom with whirlpool, bidet and separate shower, along with separate bedroom and living areas (with queen-sized sofa bed). Measurements are 618 square feet for the cabin and 131 square feet for the verandah. And finally? The piece d'resistance is the Royal Suite, which comes with all the Owner's Suite amenities plus a baby grand piano, a balcony that measures 170 square ft. (outfitted with better-than-standard furnishings, including a dining table); the stateroom itself is 1,188 square ft.
Royal, Royal Family and Presidential suite users get perks through the "Enhanced Program for Suite Guests." Among the additional services: priority check-in, priority seating at shows and on the Pool Deck, priority tender tickets and expanded room service menus.
All suite-holders are entitled to use the Concierge Club on Deck 9. This windowless room features continental breakfast and a cocktail hour. Upon request, the concierge on duty handles special requests for reservations -½ the alternative restaurants, spa, etc.
Tip: Families should book as far in advance as possible -- a year ahead of time if you can -- to have the best choice of family-friendly staterooms (including connecting cabins), particularly if you are traveling during school vacation periods.
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