Friday, January 25, 2008

Voyager of the Seas with Texas steer horns

Another photo of the Voyager of the Seas with the Welcome to Texas steer horns.
Very impressive.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Review--Voyager of the Seas--1.13.2008

Voyager of the Seas Review 1.13.2008

Just The Facts
Ship: Voyager of the Seas
January 13-January 20, 2008
Captain: Gerry Larsson-Fedde
Entertainment Director: Eric Dowis
Ports: Galveston-Cozumel-Roatan-Progreso-Galveston
Weather: Good all week, warm most days, high sea last day

This is my 7th Royal Caribbean cruise and 2nd on a Voyager class ship. We booked this cruise on May 10, 2006 just after it was announced that the Voyager would sail from Texas and had been looking forward to it for a long time.

Sunday was a big media day for the Voyager with a special Welcome to Texas ceremony. The ship had a huge set of steer horns on the front of the ship and it was decorated with Texas theme banners. A helicopter took video of the ship entering & leaving the harbor. There were invited press and travel agents boarding for inspection.

Day One--Sunday--Embarkation
Left the Ranch about 7:00 a.m. and had a nice and easy drive to Galveston. Houston traffic was fine, Sundays are usually smooth. We knew that the Voyager would be an hour late this morning so we weren’t in a big hurry but we still arrived at EZ Cruise parking about 11:30. We chose to walk over to the terminal and IMHO is easier than waiting and loading on and off the shuttle. It’s only a few blocks and even with rolling our bags it was easy. We went through security with little problem and then to check-in. We went through the regular line as there were so many in the VIP line that it was really not any faster. We expected some delay in boarding due to the media day and it was so. They didn’t board until about 12:40. We lucked out on being able to be some of the first aboard though. We were among the very first in the Windjammer and had a very nice lunch. The welcome ice sculpture is beautiful. The food was good and the roast beef was very good as were the desserts. The cabins open at 1:00 so were able to go straight to the cabin after lunch. I noticed all the new No Smoking signs on all the cabin doors. The cabin was not as ‘ship shape’ as we would have preferred, but we’ll give the steward an opportunity to correct the problems. We went for a quick tour of the ship exploring the Grand Promenade, Viking Crown Lounge, and Dining Room. We returned to the cabin about 2:15 and our checked bags were already there. We were unpacked and DW took a nap while I went forward to get a photo of the steer horns on the top of the ship. The rest of the afternoon was spent watching the Dallas Cowboys playoff game. As promised to Cruise Critic friends I waved at the port camera as the Conquest moved away from the dock and the Voyager came into camera view. We ordered our usual (on every RCCL cruise) cheese plate and fruit plate from room service, but it was never delivered, even after a second phone call. The welcome show featured comedian Ralph Achilles and Eric Dowis the Cruise Director. Both who we have seen previously on the Rhapsody. We have late seating dinner in the Magic Flute at 8:30. We have a nice table and good location. I had the Vidalia Onion Tart, Tuscan Tomato Soup, Prime Rib with horseradish, and Savrin for dessert. After a busy day we retired to the cabin.

Day Two--Monday--at Sea
I had breakfast in the dining room. Eggs Benedict, bacon, & tomato juice. It was very good. After breakfast I picked up tickets for the Ice Skating Show. The Cruise Critic Meet & Mingle was at 11:00 a.m. in the High Notes lounge. We had a very very large group and the entire lounge was full. So many people you couldn’t really meet everyone. Eric Dowis the CD was there and they served finger sandwiches, chocolate covered strawberries and petite fours. Eric said that the Captain usually attends, but was unable to due to high winds and he stayed on the bridge. That was interesting to me as I’ve never seen a Captain at a Meet & Mingle. Eric was very funny and entertaining during the raffle. DW says he is much better than Ralph Achilles. Following the M&M we had cocktails at the Pig & Whistle and people watched on the Promenade. We had lunch in the dining room and they had a build your own pasta station. The carrot cake was very good. We went to the 3:00 ice show, Ice Odyssey. It was excellent and not to be missed. We returned to the cabin to rest and we again ordered the fruit plate and cheese plate for evening cabin/balcony snacks. The Room Service supervisor did call about the non delivery yesterday and we arranged for them to be delivered each day at 5:00 which is perfect for sunset balcony time. The Captains reception was held in Cleopatra's Needle and the Grand Promenade for both dinner seatings. Good idea and locations, but it does get crowded. Dinner was very good and this was the first formal night. Escargot, shrimp cocktail, Lobster Bisque, Beef filet, and Grand Mariner Soufflé were my selections. They had a Johnny Cash Tribute show following dinner in the La Scala Theater which was OK. Ralph Achilles followed with a midnight show.

Day Three--Tuesday--Cozumel

The weather is cloudy some showers but really ideal as it can be hot in Cozumel. We docked about 8:00 am. at the International pier. There were five ships in Cozumel, four docked and one tendered. I had an omelet in the dining room for breakfast and it was good, not on the menu, but they will fix one for you. We have been to Cozumel many many times over a 25 year (pre cruise ship) period so we had no big excursions planned, just an afternoon in town. We left the ship about 10:30 and took a taxi ($6) to town. We met our friend Nelly at her shop, Mayan Pearl, and DW had a piece repaired and bought a new piece of jewelry. I went to the internet shop and had a hair cut at Antonio’s barber shop. Martin has been cutting my hair for over two years. Next stop was Havana Blue for a few rounds of mojitos. They are the best in the Caribbean IMHO. We spent the rest of the afternoon on the square. I had a good beer drinking spot and DW could shop. Several mariachis played our favorites. Some rain moved us from the sidewalk into the restaurant, but it was a great afternoon. We arrived back at the ship a little before the suggested time of 4:30. As many know one of my favorite things to do in Cozumel is stand on the deck above the gangway and watch the drunks and late comers arrive. This time something different happened, the drunks were already on board (balloon hats & all) and they were yelling down at the people boarding. Different and very funny to me. We didn’t have any late passengers and we actually pushed away from the dock a little early. The past guest reception was this evening in Studio B and the entertainment in the La Scala Theatre was Los Pampas Gaucho. Dinner was good, but one of the weaker menus. I had the Tilapia, but also with a steak from the alternative choices and had the BBB for desert. DW said that the Asparagus & Brie Tart on the vegetarian selections was very good. Best vegetarian entrée so far. What did make the dinner special though was the head waiter surprised me with a plate of sliced hearts of palm (one of my favorites) which I ate with my Caesar salad. Very nice. Thank you so much, we would never get them in Bosque county.

Day Four--Wednesday--Roatan

We arrived by 9:00 a.m. and the weather is great, but perhaps warm for some. Looking south you could see the mountains of the mainland. You can not always see them and I suspect most cruise passengers miss them. The port and immediate area of Coxen Hole seems much cleaner than we were here last. They seemed to have finished the construction at the pier so that may account for part of it. DW had room service breakfast on the balcony. I tried the omelet station in the Windjammer and my omelet was excellent. There seems to be more people staying on board than I expected, but we still had a good stay on the ship on a port day which we try to do on each cruise in order to take advantage of ship amenities. A little pool time midday, oddly the port side pool was cold and the starboard side was warm. Have no idea why, but it was very noticeable to the guests. In the afternoon we ate at Johnny Rockets. It was very good, DW had a grilled cheese and I had a portion of two different kinds of small hamburgers. The french fries and onion rings are really the best. The malts are also very good. Although there is an additional charge for the cokes, they were refilled courteously and promptly. I do recommend visiting Johnny Rockets. We rested and walked around the ship this afternoon. Balcony time was very good as we watched the activities of the Costa ship that was anchored near by and watching her sail away which was very interesting. The fruit & cheese plates were also enjoyed on the balcony. We went to the ice show again. It was great watching it again as we could anticipate some of the routine which was enjoyable. Fantastic show. Dinner was good, my selections were the Scallops, Shrimp Cocktail, Chicken Marsala, and Tiramisu for dessert. The Love and Marriage game show was this evening.

Day Five--Thursday--at Sea

Weather clear and bright. Room service breakfast came right on time. We watched the Love & Marriage show on the cabin TV and Eric Dowis is amazing. A great ad-libber and he makes the now standard cruise show very humorous. Captain Gerry announced during his daily noon update that due to weather they would be moving the departure time in Progreso to 5:00 p.m. We have been enjoying the balcony today, and actually it has become hot, but sounds like we need to enjoy it while we can. We enjoyed lunch in the Windjammer. Roast Pork was on the carving station and it was very good as were the salads and desserts. DW caught the movie in the screening room. I enjoyed balcony time as it has cooled in the afternoon and was very pleasant. The headliner show was before dinner (for late seating) and featured LaRaf a magic and illusion show. It was interesting show for sure. This was the second formal night and did feature the standard menu with the lobster. I had the Soup, Salad, Seafood Plate (lobster), Prime Rib (excellent), and the Assorted desserts. As mentioned we have a great dining table and during a discussion of the Love & Marriage show some gave their personal answers to some of the featured L&M questions. I’ve never seen a table laughing so much. Great fun. The Karaoke Superstars followed dinner, but we retired early.

Day Six--Friday--Progreso
Weather is overcast. We docked about 8:00 a.m. We are backed into port so the aft balcony has a view of the local band and dancers at the dock area. DW had the room service breakfast and I again had an omelet from the omelet bar in the Windjammer. It was great. The weather has cleared somewhat. We watched a movie then went down to the dock and rode the shuttle into Progreso about 11:45 a.m. They have changed somewhat the shuttle area in Progreso for the better. You now unload and load in the municipal building. DW found the shop with the handbags that she was looking for and we picked up some gifts for those watching the dog and feeding the animals back home. We then went to our favorite restaurant, Le Saint Bonnet and just made it headquarters for the day. We sit on the bar side. Basically enjoyed Dos XX and margaritas while watching people and the beach, visiting with vendors & other guests, and listening to mariachis. The wind changed to out of the north which made it very pleasant. We stayed until 4:00 p.m. and started back to the shuttle area which went smooth as we were behind the crowd, arriving back at the dock about 4:30 and on the ship before the 5:00 p.m. request. They have moved up departure from 8:00 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. due to potential high winds. It was beautiful when we left but better safe than sorry. I think they will appreciate the early start when they hit weather on the way back. Dinner was good this evening. My selections were the Mulligatawny soup, Tomato Salad, and the Pork Medallions (very good). The first and only production show for our cruise was following dinner. Broadway Rhythm & Rhyme featured the singers and dancers in a Broadway style review show. It was excellent, some of the best singers and dancers I have seen on board a cruise ship.

Day Seven--at Sea
We began going through the strong part cold front about 7:00 a.m. Captain Gerry made an early announcement (8:00 am) about the up to 50 knot winds and most outside decks will be closed. Our balcony is protected so we can watch the weather. We each had room service breakfast this morning. First hot items we’ve asked to be delivered and they were delivered on time and in fine shape. We watched a movie and worked on debarkation paper work in the morning. We were invited to the luncheon for Platinum and Diamond guests at noon. It was in the Magic Flute and it was almost completely full so there are a lot on board. They served three starters, Duck Pate, a small Potato Soup, Shrimp in a tamari sauce and a choice of entrées. I had the Filet Mignon which was very good and they prepared some vegetables and cannelloni for DW. The dessert was a special Chocolate Melting Cake. All the indoor venues are busy as the pools are closed due to the weather. The sea is really rocking & rolling today. I had an appointment with the Loyalty Ambassador this afternoon. For anyone wanting to book a future cruise I recommend making an appointment early in the week. We went to the Farewell Showtime which featured the Orchestra, CD Eric, and Captain Gerry who sang God Bless Texas. Captain Gerry received a deserved standing ovation. The comedian was Karen Mills who was very funny. Dinner was again good. I had the Steak and green salad, again with hearts of palm. After dinner was the Island Frenzy parade in the Royal Promenade. It was great. DW packed during the day and I packed this evening.

No room service on debarkation morning, but a full breakfast menu in the dining room. We arrived and turned in the channel for the first time since the VY has been in Galveston. She was starboard side to he terminal. They started allowing the self-debarkation people off just after 8:00 a.m. It was really fairly smooth considering how many people are using it and that we were a bit late. We rolled our bags to EZ Cruise parking and were on our way to fill up and head north. Gas was $2.81 in Galveston, and we crossed the bridge about 9:15 a.m.

The ship was very clean and well maintained. This was my second time on a Voyager class ship. I am still very impressed. There are good and bad things about the size. There are a lot of people and the pools can be very crowded during peak times. The elevators are always full, but it was much better than my cruise on the Adventure. A big positive is that the additional size also means that there is room for the photo gallery, casino, bars, etc. without any one of them dominating an entire deck. The Aquarium Bar and Champagne Bar (a non smoking bar) are very impressive as are the Studio B, the Theater, and other public spaces. The Grand Promenade is very impressive indeed and must be experienced.

The staff and crew are for the most part very good. The Captain is humorous and was good with his announcements. Listen for his Chinese friend. He also plays in one of the bands and is very good. Our waiters were excellent. The bar staff all very friendly. There were several crew from the Rhapsody, the most visible were 'Irky' from Turkey and of course CD Eric Dowis.

We have cabin 7388 which is an aft wrap with the extended balcony. The balcony is fully covered which is very nice as we are not really sun people. The bathroom has a solid shower door which is a big improvement from RH and the lighting is much better. Our cabin steward is not very good. He really didn’t keep my small cooler full of ice as we ran out twice. Once saying he would take care it, but never did. Had to go to the bar for ice twice. The cabin wasn’t really very clean when we boarded. Stains on the linens may be overlooked, but not in combination with stains on the couch. Gross. He did improve by the end of the week. Never used the refrigerator. The safe has a button key pad. The cabin could use some updating as well. Balcony is great with 3 chairs, 2 loungers, and 2 tables.

Again our dining room is the Magic Flute, deck five (top level) of the 3 level restaurant. It was an eight top table and all three of the other couples are great. All from Texas and all experienced cruisers. That must have been the common denominator for selection. We have been very fortunate on all of our Royal Caribbean cruises as far as dining companions. All have been excellent, they do a much better job than other lines. My two favorite room service items are the Seasonal fruit plate and the International cheese plate. The cheese plate consists of five different cheeses and garnished with a strawberry, walnuts, and dried apricots. It is served with water biscuits or saltines. The fruit plate usually has grapes, pineapple, kiwi, melon, strawberry, and orange slice. Both are great. Johnny Rockets was a good alternative for lunch or afternoon snack. Lunch in the dining room has the same menu each day with one special item that does change daily. All the bread selections are very good on board. The Windjammer buffet is also very good and better than many other lines. There are several ice creme and yogurt machines. You can order room service on the RCTV, but it did not work most of the time. Room Service: We made a standard daily order for both our evening fruit & cheese plates and breakfast. First day our evening order was never delivered. First morning the breakfast was late and missed half the order. Spoke with Armando the room service supervisor. Second evening late. Second morning 1.5+ hours late. Again spoke with Armando. Really did begin to improve on third/forth day and was great by end of cruise.

Cruise Highlights
CD Eric Dowis, the Ice Odyssey ice skating shows, the Broadway style Rhythm & Rhyme production show, and Thursday evenings dinner conversation.

Needs Improvement
Ice- hopefully the staff and crew will soon learn the importance of ice to Texans. Very little ice in drinks and stateroom ice buckets. Texans want ice in their iced tea, water, and soft drinks and they serve European style with little or NO ice at all. I’ve passed this recommendation to the hotel manager, room service manager, and anyone else who would listen. I overheard a conversation on the elevator and it seems some passengers took it upon themselves and commandeered the ice machine on one deck early in the cruise. I did notice that it already seemed to improve by the end of the cruise.
RCTV- the CBS Eye on Royal Caribbean repeats the same two shows, it is supposed to be a different show each day. Also the schedule in the Cruise Compass for movies in the screening room is different from what is listed at the screening room. The picture itself in the screening room is poor quality. And the room service ordering on the TV doesn’t show all the items available.

The ice is already addressed. They do have salsa, but it’s NYC salsa (if you know what I mean). I was impressed that they do have Jalapeños for omelets, etc. They do have Ranch dressing on the buffet, but not in dining room as yet, I bet that changes soon as well. Some guests requested other condiments for the baked potatoes as only sour creme is offered. The staff was friendly enough and they will improve just by association with the Texas passengers. It will never be what the Rhapsody was to Texans, but they are making great attempts.

They really seem to do a very good job of scheduling the entertainment and production shows then coordinating them with the various receptions, and other events. The additional public rooms on a Voyager class ship certainly helps. The new dance/singing production team boarded with us so we only had one production show. That should improve in future sailings, but we attended the ice show twice which we enjoyed very much.
Overall a fantastic cruise!! We are already booked for next year!!

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Conquest in Galveston harbor turning basin

click on photo to enlarge-great view

Carnival Conquest in Galveston Harbor turning basin. Usually not seen in day time. Photo taken from aft of Voyager of the Seas. Click to enlarge photo. Note the tall ship Elissa off the bow.