Friday, January 30, 2009

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Review--Voyager of the Seas--1.11.2009

Voyager of the Seas Review 1.11.2009

Just The Facts:
Ship: Voyager of the Seas
Date: January 11-January 18, 2009
Captain: Patrik Dahlgren
Entertainment Director: Eric Dowis
Ports: Galveston - Cozumel - Roatan - Costa Maya - Galveston
Weather: Poor all week

This was my 11th Royal Caribbean cruise and 3rd cruise on the Voyager of the Seas. We are cruising and traveling with my Sister & BIL and meeting good friends who we have sailed with previously.

Day One--Sunday--Embarkation
The Voyager had major embarkation problems due to fog (5+ hours late) the previous weekend so that was our major precruise concern. We were actually pleased when a small cold front came through central Texas on Saturday. We would gladly trade the cooler weather for the assurance of no fog and thus a delay. The front reached Galveston late Saturday so the weather was clear, and colder than normal at embarkation, but no fog. We left the Ranch at 6:00 a.m. BIL drove and I navigated and enjoyed following with the very nice GPS system. The GPS system took us the exact same route we usually take. We had a nice and easy drive to Galveston. Houston traffic was fine. We arrived early enough to drop our bags at Cruise Terminal #2 before automobile traffic became heavy. I drove over and parked at EZ Cruise parking and then walked over to the ship terminal. I highly recommend EZ Cruise parking and they have shuttles, but I prefer walking. By the time I got back to the terminal our party had reached the front of the first security ID check. They had a priority/VIP line for the 2nd security check point that we used and then went to Priority check-in desk. We had just settled in with our complimentary glass of champagne and met some CC members when they announced they would begin boarding. Nice group in the priority area and no mad rush to the door. The ships staff were extremely friendly, everyone welcomed us on board ship and offered help or guidance. We went to the Windjammer and were ahead of most of the arriving passengers. With fewer people there we could appreciate the three beautiful ice carvings and the fruit displays. The roast beef was very good as was the salad and the desserts. We went to our cabin shortly after 1:00 p.m. when cabins become available to guests. Our luggage arrived about 1:30 p.m. so we were unpacked right away. I promised DD that we would go down to the Promenade deck and wave at the web cam at 2:00 so we did (she later reported that she saw us) and then stopped at the Pig & Whistle for a cocktail and cokes. The Promenade deck was packed as the cool weather kept passengers off the outdoor decks and inside the ship. The Grand Promenade is a very good people watching spot and I saw several friends and acquaintances. It was busy early due to the cool weather. The sports bar was packed with people watching the NFL football playoffs that were also shown on cabin TV. We later finished unpacking and explored more of the ship. It was quite chilly for muster drill. The Welcome Aboard Show for both dinner settings featured comedian Keith McGill, Eric Dowis the Cruise Director, and the Voyager of the Seas Singers and Dancers. It was a good show and a good start to the cruise. Dinner was scheduled for 30 minutes later than usual as is sometimes common on embarkation day. Friends and family are all at the same table as requested in the La Boheme dining room. The Vidalia onion tart and Tomatillo (spicy) soup were very good. I also had the Prime Rib (with fresh horseradish) as an entree and Savrin for desert. After a busy day and dinner we retired to the cabin for the evening.

Day Two--Monday--at Sea
Warmer today than it was yesterday, but still cool and cloudy most of the day. I slept very well and a little late. I went up to the Windjammer and it was packed so I had a very nice breakfast in the Carmen (main) dining room. After breakfast I picked up tickets for the Ice Skating Show for our group. We attended the Cruise Critic Meet & Mingle at 11:00 a.m. in the High Notes Lounge. There was a good crowd and it’s always great to put real names to screen names. They had small finger sandwiches, water, and lemonade. Very disappointed that there were no chocolate covered strawberries or petit fours as there were last year. Eric Dowis, the cruise director, attended and was his usual humorous self during the raffle. BIL actually won the Royal Caribbean computer mouse. The Captain gave his midday report and announced that there would be a delay in arriving in Cozumel, not sure why. We had lunch in the Windjammer. They had roast pork at the carving station and the specialty station had ‘prepare to order’ pasta. There was a wide selection of items in the buffet. The chocolate peanut butter pie was fantastic as were the egg custard and tutti-frutti, some of my favorite desserts. A short nap before we went to the 4:00 ice show, Ice Odyssey. It was an excellent show and not to be missed. The Captains reception was held in the Grand Promenade. He introduced his senior staff from a bridge above and across the promenade. Dinner tonight was at the usual 8:00 pm in the dining room. Escargot, Shrimp Cocktail, Beef Filet, Sea Bass, and Grand Mariner Soufflé were my selections. The headwaiter brought me a plate of sliced Hearts of Palm (one of my favorites) that were fantastic. This was my favorite dinner of the week. The Hughes Brothers were the feature entertainers this evening, but we skipped having seen them previously. Another early cabin night.

Day Three—Tuesday--Cozumel
Weather was cloudy and moist today. Midday temperatures around 80°. I had breakfast in the Carmen dining room. A very good breakfast: tomato juice, grapefruit, fried eggs, bacon, hash brown potatoes, and toast. We arrived three hours late in Cozumel docking after 10:30 am. The cause was stated as weather and water currents early after leaving Texas although I think we have been traveling on only one screw since we left Galveston. There were four ships in Cozumel, two at the International pier (Voyager & Grandeur) and two next door at Puerto Maya (Carnival Fantasy & a Costa ship). We were the last to arrive. Because of the late arrival and on again and off again showers we didn’t do any excursions or island tours as originally discussed and we just took a taxi into San Miguel. Our first stop was the Mayan Pearl owned by our friend Nelly. I had a much needed haircut at Antonio’s barber shop. Martin has been cutting my hair for over three years. We did some shopping at Ron Jon’s and our favorite store La Cinco Soles. We had arranged to meet our friends at La Candela and we all arrived there about 2:00 p.m. Lunch here was fantastic and it is a very attractive and clean restaurant. They set up tables for our group of eight on the lower patio next to the little waterfall. The owner is Cuban so there is a nice selection of Mexican and Caribbean (Cuban) dishes. Our group ordered a wide selection of items from the menu and ALL were very good including the fresh Seafood dishes, Shrimp dishes, Soups, Mexican & Guacamole dishes, and the unique house Salsa. They also have a full bar and very good service. They do a good mojito with Cuban rum and have my favorite Mexican beer, Bohemia. A little shower again fell, but we were protected on our little patio. After lunch we visited the Havana Blue cigar bar as rumor was that they are serving mojitos from there although the main bar is still closed. Our group drank all the mojitos that could be made as they ran out of the ‘makings’ so we were offered some samples of various Cuban premium rums. We headed back up the Malecon to the main square and then taxis back to the ship. As we have done on previous cruises our group likes to meet on deck four over the gangway just before sail away. It’s fun to watch the late arrivals and their condition as the return to the ship. At Cozumel there were some lucky people even though they were late, there was a large ship tour from the mainland that was very late so no one would be left at the dock. We sailed about 45 minutes late. The feature production show this evening in the LaScala Theater was Music in Motion. The show is very enjoyable although we skipped having seen it twice and such a busy day. DW & I stopped by the Concierge Club for a cocktail before dinner. Dinner was good. DW had very good vegetarian entrée: a multi-colored pasta cooked in a blue cheese sauce which is their best vegetarian entrée in her opinion. I had the Maryland Crab cake, Soup, Grilled double sliced Pork Steak and a Black Angus Sirloin Steak, with a Mango parfait type dish for dessert. The Pork Steak was very good. This evening the Country & Western night / Texas Party was held in Cleopatra's Needle. They had a western band and did line dancing directed by the cruise staff.

Day Four--Wednesday--Roatan
The Voyager arrived around 9:30 a.m. and the weather is overcast with showers. You can’t see the mainland today. Temperature is very humid 82-84° with showers. I again had a very nice breakfast in the Carmen dining room. Due to the weather we all changed plans from a trip to the West End/Tabyana beach. DS & BIL took an island tour by taxi and our friends went to the Fins & Flippers located in Coxen Hole the same harbor as the cruise terminal. We watched a movie in the cabin then had lunch in the Windjammer. Each of us had great salads. I also had roast beef and baked potato. Dessert was a very good Lemon Meringue pie. We decided to take a walk after lunch just around the pier area. They have now completed the construction of the three new buildings at the Coxen Hole Cruise Terminal, they look very nice, a sort of old colonial warehouse style architecture. They will eventually house shops and services. There is already a Diamonds International opened, some may say that is progress, others not so much. Although still cloudy and an occasional shower we decided to take the tender over to the Fins & Flippers to see what it was like at this new resort. We got there about 2:00 pm and found our friends on the beach and in the water snorkeling. They said the snorkeling was wonderful. We stayed and had a bucket of the local beers, Salva Vida and Port Royal, until the rains really came down about 3:30. Fortunately it was a warm rain. The tender took us from the small island directly to the cruise ship pier. That allowed us to avoid the crowded walk back and was very convenient. Sail Away: We had a fantastic impromptu sail away party. The deck four gangway party merged to our large aft balcony for cocktails and fun as we put the view of the island of Roatan and sunset behind us. We even ordered a dozen Fruit & Cheese plates for a nice snack. A lighter dinner just having a steak as an entrée, but the waiter again brought a plate of sliced hearts of palm (one of my favorites) that we shared with the table. The Love and Marriage game show hosted by Eric was this evening in the La Scala Theater.

Day Five--Thursday—Costa Maya
We docked very early this morning and it was pouring down rain. Also docked at the newly reopened pier is the MSC Lyrica and the P&O Oceania. The Lyrica is the ship we hope will be sailing from Bayport (Houston) Texas soon. We watched the Love & Marriage show on the cabin TV this morning and Eric Dowis is amazing. A great ad-libber and he makes the now standard cruise show very humorous. I met our group for breakfast in the Windjammer and the plan for the day is to sit out the rain until afternoon. Team GangwayRay/Mohahual were the Voyager of the Seas Team Trivia Champions for Thursday. The question that we answered that put us over the top as no other team got it was: Who was Robert LeRoy Parker better known as? The weather slacked a bit about noon so a group of us headed over to Costa Maya and Mahahual. It was still sprinkling, but gradually stopped although still very overcast. This is my first visit since they recently reopened the port. It had been closed since Hurricane Dean in August of 2007. The modern village has been completely restored and is very nice. All the shops, bars, and restaurants are open and it is very clean and convenient to the ships. We decided to go on to the old former fishing village. The ticket/transport area has been moved further south, but allows more room on the outside for loading. The cost of transportation to Mahahual either by bus, taxi, or van is $3 per person. Mahahual: They have developed a Malecon with a nice walkway along the waterfront. They will now only have permanent structures on the shore side although they will have palpas, umbrellas, etc. along the beach side of the walkway. Several restaurants are building nice structures on the shore side with a nice beach area for guests. We stopped at the El Faro beach area first and had a few beers, very good guacamole & pico de gallo, and enjoyed a large mariachi band, but showers moved us into their patio across the street. To be honest their permanent building lacks the charm of their former location. They do have good toilets in the building, but it will not be my favorite place in the new Mahahual. Pez Quatro has the most impressive structure so far, but I do not recommend them. The beer is $3 per beer which is $1+ more than other beach locations. The real sin was the nachos are made with canned processed cheese and canned nachos. Basically the same as the ballpark nachos you would get at Ranger stadium just dressed up a bit. They may be acceptable for the people off the Lyrica, Oceania, or 30% of the passengers of the Voyager, but that’s not real nachos. After having so much fun here in previous years I was very disappointed with Mahahual this time. After returning to the cabin I enjoyed watching everyone return to the ship and the sail away of the Lyrica. The Lyrica is owned by MSC an Italian company and of course announcements are in Italian. What was very unique was that as they sailed away from the dock they played Italian Operatic Arias over the loudspeakers. Very Cool. The entertainment this evening in the La Scala Theatre was Merrill Osmond, lead singer of the famous Osmond Brothers family. He had a great multimedia show and sang many Osmond hits. This was one of the better shows we have seen on a cruise ship. This was Italian night in the dining room. My selections for dinner were the Scallops Risotto, Minestrone soup, Chicken Marsala, Sponge Cake with strawberries, and Tiramisù. The waiters ended Italian night by singing O Solo Mio (kind of ironic because of the weather-no sun). This evening the Quest was held in Studio B, but I met friends in the High Notes Lounge to listen to Synergy a jazz/pop group who did a variety of music. The female vocalist was great.

Day Six--Friday—at Sea
It is a cloudy & very windy day today, but a bit nicer on the aft balcony. I was up early today so made my way up to the Island Grill to get my first omelette. It was very good. The lines have been longer at the omelette station this cruise as many more people have discovered it. Corned beef hash, bacon, tomato juice, and milk completed breakfast. We entered the Team Trivia contest again and tied for 1st, but lost the tie breaker: What book did John Hinckley have on him when he shot President Reagan? I tried my luck in the casino with the free slot pulls that come with our C&A booklet and won some credits. We watched a movie on cabin TV and then went to the Windjammer for a light lunch. The green salads are very good and I also had some Schnitzel and potato salad. I took a nap after lunch and then tried some more trivia but we again lost out to the same team. I did discover that they read this simple blog though, so they are obviously ‘intelligent’ folks. ;-) The second production show for our cruise was before dinner. Broadway Rhythm & Rhyme featured the singers and dancers in a Broadway style review show featuring popular songs from Broadway shows. It was an excellent show. Tonight is the second formal evening and dinner was again good. My selections were the Baked Ziti, Garden Salad, Fisherman’s Platter (Lobster & shrimp) and the assorted dessert selection with ice crème. The Karaoke Superstars was following dinner, but we went to the Big Band Swing show by the Voyager of the Seas Orchestra that was held in Cleopatra's Needle's Needle. After the show we stopped to check some of Derrick Lewis’ Kamikaze Karaoke at the Pig & Whistle Pub. Derick has his own group of followers that have sailed with him many times previously from Galveston on the Rhapsody and now the Voyager.

Day Seven--at Sea
Party cloudy and sun this morning. Best weather of the cruise on the last sea day. We tried to sleep in this morning as we have ordered room service breakfast for the balcony. I filled out an application for a future cruise booking and left it with the Loyalty Ambassador this morning. He seemed very nice. We were invited to the luncheon for Platinum and Diamond guests at noon. It was in the Magic Flute and it was well attended. We were able to eat with friends from a previous cruise as well as DS & BIL and made some new friends and fellow ranchers from the Granbury area. They served two starters, Duck Pate, and a Potato Soup with flaky biscuit. The wine served was very good. We had a choice of entrees. I had the Filet Mignon that was excellent and they prepared some vegetables for DW. The dessert was a very very rich Chocolate Cake. After lunch I used a C&A coupon to try a Mango Lava Flow from the Aquarium bar and it was very nice. I leave a tip when using a coupon and the bartenders seem to appreciate it. If you wait until after 2:30 pm on the final sea day and purchase liquor from the General Store you can take it with you to your cabin. I purchased two bottles of Bacardi rum ($21) and the price gets better the more you purchase, but Texas has a legal limit of one liter per person. The weather finally improved enough that passengers used the pool deck this afternoon. The band played and the pool bars were finally busy. We took our first stroll of the cruise along the decks about 4:00 pm. We did sneak in a visit to Johnny Rockets this afternoon and did catch a dance from the waiters. DW & I had cocktails in the Concierge Club and visited with friends. We skipped the Farewell entertainment show, but watched it on the cabin TV later while packing. Dinner was again very good. I had the Cesar salad, New York Strip Steak, French Onion Soup, and Key Lime Pie for dessert. All selections were very good. After dinner was the Island Frenzy Parade in the Royal Promenade.

No room service on debarkation morning, but a full breakfast menu in the dining room. Of course today we had the best weather of the week. The Voyager arrived early and we were docked by 6:30 a.m. They have a new debarkation system. They make no announcements at all, everyone is allowed to select their own departure time earlier in the week and are assigned a meeting spot for that time. The staff then goes to each location at the appropriate time and escorts them to the gangway. I think this will work well. They started allowing the self-debarkation people off about 7:00 a.m. thirty minutes before scheduled. It was really fairly smooth considering how many people are using it. We debarked, went through U.S. Customs, rolled our bags across the street, loaded the truck, and were off the island at 7:50 am. Gasoline was $1.68 in Galveston. We made our stop at Ama’s in Hearne Texas for migas, picked up the dogs in Waco, and arrived home in fine shape about 1:30 p.m..

This was my 4th time on a Voyager class ship. I am still very impressed with these magnificent vessels. There are good and bad things about the size. The elevators can be busy or full and I recommend taking the stairs when possible. 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. On this particular cruise because of a lot of cool and wet weather the additional interior spaces was needed and utilized. The Aquarium Bar and Champagne 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 ship was very clean and the public rooms were always spotless. They replaced the carpet on deck seven aft during the week so they are still making repairs even though they have a dry dock scheduled soon.

The staff and crew are very good. The staff are very friendly. I guess they have really adjusted to Texas and the friendly crowd. We had our third different Captain on the Voyager and he did keep us informed of the weather for better or worse. Captain Patrik is currently the youngest in the fleet. Our waiter and assistant waiter were excellent. The bar staff all very friendly. Even the maintenance crew would greet you. Very impressed.

We have cabin 7688 an aft wrap balcony on deck seven. It is an average sized cabin, but a very nice balcony and quiet location. Our cabin steward was excellent. He did keep my small cooler full of ice and the cabin in good shape. The cabin was very clean when we boarded and cleaned very well during the week. He also kept the balcony neat and clean. The safe has a button keypad. Air conditioning worked very well. You can check the status of your on board account using the RC-TV. The cabin refrigerator was well stocked, but we never used it. The toilet paper had been downgraded to an industrial quality. Also no mints on your bed at turn down, but some nice towel animals most nights.

We had second or late seating for dinner. Our dining room was the La Boheme, deck four (middle level) of the 3 level restaurant. It was an eight top table and had a perfect view of the beautiful main chandelier. Our waiter, Reynaldo from India is very good. The assistant waiter, Dennis from Romania, is also very good. The headwaiter Betty from India came by several times to check our table and arranged the hearts-of-palm. We enjoyed all the dinners in the dining room. Johnny Rockets is 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 had a daily pasta bar and a carving station for nice meat selections. We enjoyed the green salads and specialty items. The desserts are very good. There are several ice cream machines with strawberry, vanilla, and chocolate flavors. We do use Room Service more when we have a balcony cabin. You can order room service on the RC-TV, but I recommend calling room service. DW used it for light breakfast every morning. We also used it a few times in the afternoon for Fruit plates & Cheese plates and twice for sail away parties. Service was good when used.

This was the worse weather I have ever experienced on a seven-day cruise. No severe weather, but it was just consistently cloudy, windy and rainy. A majority of the shore excursions in all three ports were canceled. The weather also created longer lines and people in the Windjammer or Johnny Rockets as it was too wet for the food usually served on pool deck. I know many were disappointed they could not use the pools and other outdoor activities.

Cruise Highlights
We ‘appreciate’ CD Eric Dowis, the fantastic Ice show Ice Odyssey, the Broadway style Rhythm & Rhyme production show, and Merrill Osmond. Our favorite port this time was Roatan.

This was our first cruise as C&A Diamond members so we are leaning the advantages of that level of membership and we did enjoy the Concierge Club. The weather really affected the overall atmosphere of this cruise. We made the best of what opportunities we had to make our own fun when we could. Traveling with friends helped a lot in this situation. We had a good cruise, but it would have been much more enjoyable with better weather.