Thursday, December 17, 2009

Review - Voyager of the Seas - November 29, 2009

Voyager of the Seas Transatlantic Cruise Review 11.29.2009

Just The Facts:
Ship & Voyage: Voyager of the Seas-Transatlantic
Date: November 29-December 13, 2009
Captain: Frank Martinsen
Cruise Director: Mike Szwajkowski
Ports: Barcelona, Spain - Cartagena, Spain - Funchal, Madeira - Tenerife, Canary Islands - Nassau, Bahamas - Galveston, Texas

This was my 14th Royal Caribbean cruise and 5th cruise on the Voyager of the Seas. This is the transatlantic leg of a B2B cruise and our first Transatlantic Cruise.

Day 1--Sunday-Embarkation-Barcelona, Spain
This is the easiest embarkation ever as we were already on the ship and because we are in the EU we do not have any local customs requirement to leave the ship and re board as one would have to do in a U.S. port. In fact our new Set Sail cards were delivered to us on Saturday. Unfortunately we do have to change cabins so we packed up and changed cabins about 9:45 am. We were told this would all be done for us, but it really was not. Our new cabin is an interior cabin on deck seven. They scheduled a deep cleaning of the ship due to the norwalk virus scare and all B2B pax remaining on board were asked to attend a movie in the La Scala theater at 10:30 am. We chose to interrupt settling into the new cabin and go directly into Barcelona as a port day. Our plan was to visit the famous Casa Batllo house designed by Antonio Gaudi. We took a bus from the pier to the Barcelona harbor-Port Vell. This is the bottom of the famous La Rambla and we decided to walk and take in the activities, shops, mimes, and people on the Rambla. Arriving after a nice long walk we arrived at Casa Batllo and purchased admission (€16,50) that includes an audio explanation of the architecture and design of the various rooms. Casa Batllo is really a must see on a trip to Barcelona. We continued our walk on to La Pedrera another building designed by Gaudi and also a museum. Here we just viewed the exterior, but visited their great bookstore. We are now a long way from the harbor so we began the journey back and at least it was all downhill. ;-) Having enjoyed eating there previously we stopped at Txapel (Cha-PELL-ah) for Tapas and a pitcher of Sangria. Again it was very good. Now at Catalonia Square, the heart of Barcelona, and the top of La Rambla we again take the boulevard down to the harbor to catch the bus to the cruise terminal. We arrived back at the ship about 4:00 pm and finished our unpacking. We were booked for main (early) setting for dinner this cruise and both settings have been moved up an hour. We are scheduled for 5:30 dinner so this will be very different for us as we have always had late seating. After an initial mix up on tables we had a nice dinner. I had a Mexican Tomatillo Soup, Spinach Salad, Prime Rib with Baked Potato, and Savrin for dessert. The good news is that we have Dominick as our waiter. He was our waiter in January and is the Voyagers top waiter. Even though early in the evening we retired to the cabin after dinner as the 3+ miles walked some rest was needed. We did watch the Welcome Aboard Show on cabin TV. It featured Cruise Director Mike Szwajkowski, who was very funny, aerialists Adagio Hunnia, and comedian Steve Smith.

Day 2--Monday-- Cartagena, Spain
It was a beautiful cool morning. I had a very nice breakfast of Eggs Benedict in the Carmen (main) dining room. They have an area set aside for Diamond members so that they can receive the benefits of special coffee drinks as they previously received in the concierge lounge. As I don't drink coffee at all it's really not an advantage to me, but a nice gesture. We decided to change back to late dining so I met with the Head Waiter this morning to make changes. We will have the same table and same waiter, but late seating. The Voyager arrived in Cartagena about 10:00 am and the pier is in the inner harbor area of the town so it is easily walk able. The harbor area is very nice and has a beautiful sea wall (1700's) with access to the old town and parks. We walked the pedestrian streets and looked at some shops as well as the Palacio Consistorial (old town hall), Plaza de Toros, and Cathedral. I had an Italian ice crème and we later stopped at a harbor side restaurant where DW had the local after desert coffee called an Asiatico (condensed milk, espresso, brandy, crème, cinnamon & sugar if desired). At a local grocery we did purchase some diet coke and candy for the crossing. The day really turned out very nice and it was especially nice to sit in the sun. We have very good weather for the last day of November. We went up to deck 12 to watch us sail out of the very pretty and natural harbor and we sailed on time at 5:00 pm. It took us 15 minutes to clear the harbor and pass the mountainous entry. I was already glad we had changed to late dinner. We went to the Diamond Lounge, still located in Cleopatra's Needle, for a glass of wine before dinner. Our bar server, Kailash, has done a very good job in helping us. Dinner was at 8:00 and we have a very nice ten top table in the middle of the main dining room (just to left of Captains table in photo). DW had the Cheese Tortalini. I had the Shrimp Cocktail, Soup, Black Angus Sirloin Steak, with a Dulce De Leche Cheesecake for dessert. The production show was American Dream a tribute to Motown, but we retired to the cabin for rest. Guests said it was a good show.

Day 3--Tuesday--At Sea
We had been looking forward to this sea day. We have had seven consecutive port days and really needed a break. We have also gained an hour of time as last night was the first of five nights we will gain time over the course of the cruise. There will be no jet lag on the return to Texas. I had a nice breakfast in the Carmen dining room. I had Eggs over medium, bacon, ham, hash browns, toast, tomato juice, and pastries. We took a walk on deck and the weather is good, a nice sunny day. There were a lot of people on deck enjoying the weather and smooth seas. DW is feeling off today, but it's not the intestinal norwalk as she has a nice appetite. ;-) She had cabin rest most of the day as she wants to be able to visit on port day tomorrow. I had some cabin time and internet time in the ship library then had a nice lunch in the Windjammer. They had Turkey on the carving station. I wonder if they had ordered a lot of turkey for the previous cruise? I watched a cabin movie later. This is the first formal night and Captains Dinner. I watched the Captain introduce the officers on promenade deck, but it was so crowded that I took the deck 4 shortcut using the outer deck to get to the dining room. It as very nice out and the seas are still calm. The Captains Dinner menu was very good. I had the Escargot, Shrimp Cocktail, Beef Filet, and Grand Mariner Soufflé as my selections. I also had a plate of sliced Hearts of Palm (one of my favorites) that were fantastic. The production show was Broadway Rhythm and Rhyme my favorite of the two production shows/ The Voyager of the Seas Orchestra, Feature Singers, and Dancers are very talented.

Day 4 -- Wednesday - Funchal, Madeira
We are scheduled to arrive at noon, but the Captain has announced that we will arrive an hour early so that's good news. I had breakfast in the Carmen Dining room, basically the same as yesterday. We went on deck to watch the Voyager sail into Funchal Bay. The weather is fantastic probably 68º at 10:45 am. with sunny skies. The harbor, island, and city all look very beautiful from the ship. The ship was cleared at 10:53 and we went to the pier to catch a taxi to town. We actually hire the taxi (€100) for a 3+ hour tour. First stop is Monte a community located high above the city of Funchal. We visited the beautiful Nossa Senhora do Monte Church and enjoyed the view from there of the city and island. Perhaps the highlight was taking the Monte Toboggan, a wicker basket on skids, down the steep mountain. This was originally a form of transport for the residents, but now a tourist thing. It is unique to Madeira and a great experience. The taxi met us at the bottom of the mountain and we went to Cabo Girao, the 2nd highest sea cliff in the world. Another amazing view and there was a local University boy choir that did an impromptu performance with guitar, drum, flute, and tambourine. The islands steep hills are covered with grape vineyards, banana trees, avocado trees, vegetable gardens, flowers, and more. Very beautiful with exotic flowers growing everywhere. We stopped a local fishing village and I sampled the local cerveza Coral. We then visited the local (H&H) Madeira wine facility. We both thought that Madeira was a beautiful and clean island. Back in Funchal we had the taxi drop us near the local market with stalls of fresh flowers, fruits, and a large fresh fish area. We had a fantastic lunch at Restaurant Almirante located near the market. I wanted local cuisine so I had the Avocado and Shrimp appetizer and we shared the house specialty dessert, a passion fruit pudding (similar to a trifle), that was made from local passion fruit. We visited a few shops and bought a beautiful flower arrangement for the cabin before taking a taxi back to the ship. We had rest time, but did stop at Cleopatera's Needle for a wine before dinner. There are so many Diamond members aboard that now the entire lounge is for Diamonds and they have a dance band. Dinner was a completely new menu. We should have several this week we were told. I had a Salad, a new scallop appetizer, Cocovin, and Catalonia Crème for dessert. The production show was Count Dimas a piano virtuoso and many said it was a fine show; however, we retired to the cabin to rest for our last port of call before the crossing.

Day 5 --Thursday-Tenerife, Canary Islands
We arrive a bit late, but the Captain is extending the stay a bit to make up for it. The weather is excellent I wore shorts for the first time on an excursion. We shared (€60 couple) a taxi tour with another couple for a 4+ hour tour of the island. We first went to Las Canadas National Park and made the drive all the way to the base of Mt. Teide (12,195 ft.). When our drive entered the park full of huge cedars and pine trees it became damp and cloudy as we were in the clouds and I was discouraged that we would not see Mt. Teide. Continuing the drive up soon we were ABOVE the clouds and it was as clear and sunny as it could be. We were soon above the level for trees and the area was full of volcanic topography. One area looks like the surface of the moon (or Mars). You really have three systems: coastal, rainforest, and desert. We stopped at the interpretive center and several locations to view the area. After the park we stopped at La Orotava an old colonial town and saw the La Casa de Balcones (1632). Next stop was the tourist area of Puerto de la Cruz where we stopped for lunch and stroll along the ocean. We returned to the ship an hour before sail away and rested until cocktails in Cleopatra's. We had another new menu for dinner. I had the Vichyssoise, Lamb chops, Pork Medallions, and Baklava & Flan for dessert. DW said the Ricotta Quiche (v) was excellent. The Love & Marriage Show and Ice Shows were the feature entertainment this evening.

Day 6--Friday-At Sea
We set our time back another hour @ 2:00 am. It was a beautiful day at sea. People were on deck sun bathing and using the pool early. I had a nice breakfast in the Carmen Dining room, visited the Library, and walked the deck. I also had some internet time and posted the review of previous cruise online. We are using this sea day as a recovery day and will get into more activities over the next 5 sea days. I did sign up for a Bridge Tour for Sunday. The production show was before dinner for late seating so we attended and really enjoyed the show. It featured The Perfect Gentlemen a singing / comedy quartet. This group was one of our favorites of this cruise. The RCCL Crown & Anchor Society past guest receptions were this evening, but after the show we went to Cleo's for the Diamond cocktail hour. Dinner was a regular menu, I had the Seafood appetizer, a salad, and the Beef shoulder sliced Roast, but other choices were the Turkey Tenderloin or Angus Steak. For dessert I had the BBB and a Mango Parfait, both excellent. After dinner we watched TV in the cabin. Still too tired for late activities.

Day 7-Saturday-At Sea
It's another beautiful day at sea. It really seems more like a Caribbean cruise as the weather is perfect for deck activities. High temperature today was about 78-80°. I had another good breakfast in the dining room and then we staked out a table and lounge chair in the Solarium to enjoy some swimming, reading, and relaxing in the great weather. I saw in the news that it had snowed it Texas last night so this is very different than the weather at home. This location was also a WiFi hotspot so we are set for the day. The ship had a Octoberfest on the promenade deck so I got a plate of German food and took it back up to our table on the Solarium for lunch. Later we met a guest from South Africa who reads this blog and wanted to meet. We had some good discussions about travel, sailing, and life in other countries. Overall it was a wonder day in the Solarium. We returned to the cabin to prepare for the evening and the production show is again before dinner. The feature was Mark Donoghue who played a variety of musical instruments and performed popular songs. His renditions of Vincent (Starry Starry Night) was excellent as the screen ran photos of Van Gogh and his art as he sang the song. We had time for one glass of wine before dinner in Cleo's. It was very busy there, but we found out that there are over 1000 Diamond members on board. It was Italian night in the dining room although I had more traditional selections of: Shrimp Cocktail, Green Salad with Hearts of Palm, Black Angus Steak, and Angel Food Cake with Strawberry Ice Crème for dessert. The waiters did sing 'O Sole Mio' for us. Time for a walk on deck then cabin time.

Day 8-Sunday-At Sea
We again turned back our clocks an hour. We are now only 3 hours from Texas time. The weather is again excellent. We both had breakfast in the dining room as DW wanted to try the pancakes. A table mate warned us that RCCL pancakes were not the best and she was so correct. They were bad. They were very bad. I substituted for Eggs Benedict. We visited with friends on the Solarium as DW got a breakfast snack from the Windjammer. We had a scheduled Bridge Tour at 11:00 am. and it was very interesting. It's nice that they allow tours on the long voyages. We had lunch in the Windjammer and then scored a table in the Solarium for the rest of the day. I attended the production show that featured Sean O'Shea. He did impressions of notable singers, I personally thought it was cheesy and did not care for it. This was the second of three formal nights and the Chef's dinner. I ordered the Baked Ziti with Scallops entrée as my appetizer, a Salad with added hearts of palm, and the Fisherman's Plate consisting of Lobster and Shrimp. The Ziti was excellent, one of the best dishes of the cruise. I had the dessert sampler and following we retired to the cabin. We haven't really done much after dinner and we are now feeling rested from the previous week, but we are getting up so early due to the time changes that we have a long day by dinner time.

Day 9-Monday-At Sea
We again turned back our clocks an hour. We are now only two hours from Texas time. The weather is again excellent, I'm not sure if this is typical or that we are fortunate. I had breakfast in the dining room and tried the omelet. It was very good. We spent most of the day on deck 11 and the Solarium. It was another beautiful day with a temperature at noon of 81°. DW spent a lot of time in the swimming pool and I relaxed with magazines and the iPod. We met friends for lunch in the Windjammer and the Schnitzel was very good. We kept our table in the Solarium for the balance of the day until we returned to the cabin to get ready for activities. We attended the ice show Ice Odyssey and had very good seats. We had seen most of the skaters in Barcelona as we shared a bus back to the ship so it was interesting seeing them in the show. We then attended the production show featuring Knight Magic. I'm not that keen on magic shows, but it was a very entertaining show. We had time for a nice glass of wine in Cleo's before dinner. Dinner was again a new menu. I had a Fried Shrimp appetizer, Salad with Hearts-of-Palm, and Occo Buccho as an entrée. I had the Irish Cheesecake (a very light cheesecake with Irish whiskey topping) for dessert.

Day 10-Tuesday-At Sea
We set back our watches another hour for the 3rd consecutive day. We are now on the same time as Nassau our next port and Eastern U.S. time. Another dining room breakfast and Mr. Peter insisted that I try the pancakes again. They were better (warm), but really not that good. Glad I had ordered the eggs that were very good. The Solarium has become a popular spot so I went up right after breakfast to get a table. I prefer a table so that I can use the computer and also use it for snacks as well. There are usually plenty of lounge chairs but not many tables. The ship has a lot of activities and lectures scheduled through out the day, but we prefer to enjoy the nice weather and watch the flying fish from a table adjacent to the outside glass partition. The seas were rolling more than in previous days, but the weather continues to be great. We did the Windjammer again for lunch. We skipped the production show, Brandy Chapman, and watched a movie in the cabin. They have four movies a day on RCTV and also the option of pay per view movies. Dinner was another new menu, but I ordered more familiar items. I ordered a selection of appetizers and the Pork Medallions as an entrée.

Day 11-Wednesday-At Sea
It was another beautiful day and calm seas although more windy than previous days. I did the Carmen dining room for breakfast, the Eggs Benedict with the extras. I went to get a table in the Solarium as usual and luckily a friend had one as they were already all claimed. There is a turn over of tables, but many do as we do and get one for the day. DW had a Windjammer breakfast and ate at the table as I played some internet Facebook games. I relaxed and DW had some good pool time most of the morning. At midday they had a Caribbean buffet on the pool deck adjacent to the Solarium so that was very convenient for lunch. We visited with new friends and enjoyed the weather all afternoon as well as a few pirated cocktails. We went to Cleo's early for a glass of wine then attended the production show Music in Motion featuring the Voyager Singers and Dancers. It was a very good show with popular tunes and beautiful costumes. Dinner was very good with another new menu. I had a Green Salad with Hearts-of-palm, the Thai shrimp entrée as a starter, and the Black Angus Steak Royal. Dessert was a Wild Berry Sponge Cake. The Liars Club was held in the Theater after dinner. We haven't seen that since the Rhapsody, but we are getting an assortment of ship activities in order to fill time during the long cruise.

Day 12-Thursday-Nassau, Bahamas
We arrived in Nassau as scheduled, but a bit of delay in debarking as they were testing new gangways to be used upon arrival of the Oasis of the Seas the following day. The Captain did allow additional time in port. The weather was very warm, hot in fact. We had been to Nassau just a few weeks ago so we had nothing big planned, so I had a nice breakfast in the dining room before we went ashore about 9:30 am. We went to the Straw Market then I went to the Internet Café while DW shopped. She did her Xmas shopping and met me at noon. We had a Bahama Momma at the local bar, did some more shopping, and then went to Senor Frogs (IMHO-a rip off) for some drinks and light snacks. We visited the Straw Market for that Rolex watch & then a jewelry store. We returned to the ship in time to swim in the Solarium pool and cool off from the day. We stayed in the Solarium until sail away. We watched workers on the dock build and paint reviewing stands for the first arrival of the Oasis of the Seas. I hope the paint drys overnight. They had a Jazz show in La Scala theater before dinner. Similar to the show the Singers do on a Saturday night (on a 7-day cruise) in the High Notes on deck 14. Dinner was again very good. I had an Asian fried shrimp appetizer with orange sauce, Rainbow salad with Hearts-of-Palm, the Surf & Turf (Shoulder roast with shrimp), and Banana Crème Pie and a Mango sweet for dessert. They had a crew show following dinner, but we didn't attend. We also passed the Oasis about midnight but we were already fast asleep.

Day 13-Friday-At Sea
Beginning of the final two sea days before home. We had a light rain very early but it was gone before my dining room breakfast in the Carmen dining room. The weather is more cloudy but very pleasant and did our now usual sea day routine in the Solarium. DW did swim and I worked on updating my reviews and spent some time online. The Crown & Anchor Society had a very nice C&A Luncheon in the La Bohemme dining room at noon. It was a two hour affair and the food was very good. They served a Roast Duck and Asparagus appetiser, a nice Mushroom Soup with pastry, a choice of Beef Tenderloin or Maui Maui as an entrée, and a Crème Brulee for dessert. They also served wine and had a staff officer at each table. It was a very nice event. After lunch I enjoyed some Rum & Coke in the Solarium and also visiting with friends and listening to music. We attended the production show featuring The Unexpected Boys. They were a show based somewhat on the Jersey Boys broadway show. Very entertaining and enjoyabe show. This is the final Formal Night on the cruise and the menu was very good. I had the Manhattan Clam Chowder, Ceaser Salad with Hearts-of -Palm, and the Surf & Turf (Tenderloin Steak and Lobster Tail). I had the Banana Crème Pie and a Strawberry Tart for dessert.

Day 14-Saturday-At Sea
Final day of the cruise. The weather is cloudy and the seas are higher as we are beginging to feel the winter weather systems in the Gulf. Another good dining room breakfast and since I have had most all my breakfasts in the Diamond area you become familiar with the regulars and have dined with them at least once by the final day. Most all have been very enjoyable to visit with in the mornings. I again snagged a table in the Solarium for our last day of the cruise. I had some computer time and we had a very nice visit with our new South African friends. Also a nice Windjammer lunch. We saw our first oil derrick about 2:30 pm so we are getting closer. Kailash, our bar server in the Diamond lounge came by with the DOD's so DW had to try one. They had a special selection of European beers and I had sampled some German ones previously, but wanted to try the Italian beer on the last day so I had a Birra Poretti. That will be my last bit of Europe for a while. We went to Cleo's for wine and then attended the Farewell Show featuring the Voyager Orchestra, Singers & Dancers, and comedian Micheal James. He was very funny and juggled on a unicycle with a female guest on his sholders-quite a scene. (after think about this act I think the guest may have been a plant in the audience) Dinner was very good. I had a Salad with Hearts of Palm, Soup, a nice NY Strip Steak, and Key Lime Pie for dessert. Following dinner we retired to pack.

Debarkation-Sunday-Galveston, Texas
We were worried about fog and when we heard fog horns we were afraid they would close the port and we couldn't get in to dock. There was fog, but we were able to dock about 7:00 am. No room service on debarkation morning, but we went to the Windjammer for breakfast. We used self debarkation and left the ship about 8:15 and were picked up by our friend shortly afterward. We stopped at the new Ama's in Hearne, Texas about noon and we were home at the ranch at 2:30 pm.

I was told by several that the exercise equipment is very good and has been updated. They did deep clean the ship during drydock, but it was the 'same ole' Voyager that we were familiar with and love from previous cruises. We really like the size and additional amenities offered on a Voyager class ship. The ship is fantastic.

The staff and crew are very good. The staff is very friendly, but I look for that to even improve once they again begin sailing form Galveston. Our waiter Dominick from India and assistant waiter Nick were excellent. Our Stateroom Attendant was very good and she kept the cooler in ice. My first experience with Mike, the CD, and I thought he was funny and a very good Cruise Director.

We had cabin 7233 an interior located forward on starboard side. It is very convenient to the forward elevators and staircase. Unlike the cabin we had the previous week this cabin seems to be have been updated during the recent Voyager dry-dock. There were new drapes, new couch, new carpet, new bathroom fixtures, etc. Still the same RCCL TV although I have learned that they are changing out the TV's to flat screens as some have been changed out on this cruise. When we have an interior cabin we prefer the beds to be set as twins against opposite walls. We actually get more floor space this way than even the balcony cabin. The safe has a button keypad and there is a hair dryer. We never used the cabin refrigerator.

We had second or late seating for dinner and it is changed back to 8:00 pm. Our dining room was again the Carmen, deck three (lower level) of the 3 level restaurant. It was a ten top table and below the beautiful main chandelier. We had very nice table mates, all from Texas. Our waiter, Dominick from India is excellent. We had him as our waiter in January and he is also the Captains waiter. One of the best waiters we have had on a ship. The assistant waiter, Nick from the Philippines is also very good. The headwaiter Peter from Poland came by every night to check our table and arranged hearts-of-palm for me. I had hearts-of-palm almost every night. We enjoyed all the dinners in the dining room especially the new menus created for the extended 14 days. We never ate at Johnny Rockets or Portofino. I usually ate in the dining room for breakfast and the egg dishes were all good; however avoid the pancakes. DW usually had a light room service breakfast. 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 usually had a daily frittata station or a carving station for nice meat selections. We enjoyed the green salads and specialty items from the Windjammer. The desserts are very good. There are several ice cream machines with vanilla and chocolate flavors. We did use Room Service on occasion especially for the fruit plates. You can order room service on the RC-TV, but I recommend calling room service. DW used the Promenade Café quite often as it was very convenient to the cabin. They had a smaller selection of items, but all were very nice. She loved the small sandwiches especially the egg salad. They also have a cookie station there and all are very good, but the Christmas cookies were excellent.

The weather was very nice especially considering that we are sailing in December. The days are short and the numerous time zone changes were different for us. It never really rained and a light jacket is all that was needed during the day on the early tours. The weather was really similar to a Caribbean cruise during the six days across the Atlantic. People sunned, swam, and enjoyed the weather on deck.

This was our first transatlantic crossing and cruise. We enjoyed the rest following such an intense previous cruise, but we did both become anxious for home towards the end as 21 days is a long time on board. The cruising median age is higher on the TA and there are a lot more smokers due to a lot of Europeans sailing, but overall it was a wonderful mix of passengers. The Pancake situation became a running joke as I teased the staff that they could make so many wonderful food items yet the pancakes, not so much, but I really was just having fun with it as a sarcastic stab at those people who complain about everything. Fortunatley there were not too many of them on board. Many were aware of the running joke, and when seated for breakfast or even at the Diamond luncheon, I was known as the “pancake guy” by the wait staff. I'm sure other guests have had much worse nicknames. ;-) I actually thought it was very funny. I got even though as on the final formal night I presented a box of Aunt Jemima pancake mix to our Head Waiter.

Skip breakfast in the dining room following a big crew party. ;-).
Avoid the Pancakes-lot's of other great breakfast items to enjoy.
Get a table or lounge chair early on the six sea days.
All exercise equipment will be busy from 6:00-6:30 am so plan accordingly.
The cookies are great-try them.
The Solarium started to clear out about 4:00 pm so that's a good time to swim.

Cruise Highlights
The weather was a major highlight. We were also fortunate in having good table mates-more important on such a long cruise. We also enjoyed seeing old friends and making new ones as well as getting to know more of the crew. After 21 days you develop a rapport with many. Not many ports, but our favorite was Funchal, Madeira our least favorite was Nassau, Bahamas. We will certainly consider a TA cruise again.

If anyone has any specific questions,
I usually 'hang out' on the message boards.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Review - Voyager of the Seas - November 22, 2009

Voyager of the Seas Review 11.22.2009

Just the Facts:

Cruise: Voyager of the Seas--Western Mediterranean

Date: January 22-January 29, 2009

Captain: Frank Martinsen

Cruise Director: Mercedes LaFuente

Ports: Barcelona, Spain - Naples, Italy - Civitavecchia, Italy - Livorno, Italy - Villefranche, France - Toulon, France - Barcelona, Spain

Weather: Very nice all week for late November

This was my 13th Royal Caribbean cruise and 4th cruise on the Voyager of the Seas.

Day One--Sunday-Embarkation-Barcelona Spain

We took a taxi (€20) from our Barcelona hotel to the cruise terminal arriving about 1:15 pm. It was a good time to arrive as there was only a short line at security and a short line for the Diamond check-in area. We could then go directly on board the ship and it was then only 5 minutes until the cabins were opened to passengers. We stored our carry bags right away then went to the Windjammer and enjoyed a nice lunch. DW had a nice Salad, Vegetables, & Mashed Potatoes and I had the Roast Beef from the carving station, Mashed Potatoes, and Grilled Corn on the Cob. We walked around the ship and refamiliarized ourselves with the public areas and decks. We had a rest in the cabin and decided to eat in the Windjammer in lieu of the dining room as we have a late dining time. The Buffet Dinner in the Windjammer is very nice. They have waiter service for drinks and to take care of your needs. The food was very good as well. I had a large Salad, Prime Rib from the carving station, Mashed Potatoes, a 'made to order' soup, and a Pork Tornado. For dessert a Viennese Strawberry Meringue, Key Lime Pie, and a Sponge Cake soaked in liquor. All very good and it will be hard to get DW into the dining room. They have added a Taste of Nations area and today it was Indian Food. It was available for both lunch and dinner. The Welcome Aboard Show for both dinner seatings featured aerialists Adagio Hunnia, a comedian/juggler Kirk Marsh, and Mercedes LaFuente the Cruise Director. It was a good show and a good start to the cruise. After the show we retired to the cabin for a movie.

Day Two--Monday--at Sea

A beautiful morning and the sea was fairly calm. I had a very nice breakfast of Eggs Benedict in the Carmen (main) dining room and then picked up tickets for the afternoon Ice Skating Show. 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, coffee, and lemonade. The Activities Manager from the ships cruise staff attended. I did some Internet time in the ship library. We had lunch in the Carmen dining room as they have the wonderful salad bar. I had a Salad, Steak Sandwich, and Carrot Cake for dessert. DW still prefers the Windjammer salad bar as they do have more specialty salad items such as sunflower seeds. The seas have picked up and there is a big wind across the decks. We went up to the upper decks to watch us sail through the straits separating the Mediterranean islands of Corsica and Sardinia, but the winds were too much. As it turned out our aft balcony was the ideal place to watch as we were protected from the wind. It was pleasant on the balcony as well with the sun warming us while observing the coastline of the two island. A very short nap before we went to the 3:30 ice show Ice Odyssey. It was the same show we have seen previously, but an excellent show and not to be missed. Following the show they had a meeting of the B2B cruisers at 4:30 in the La Scala theater. It seems we have set a new RCCL record for most repeat guests ever on a B2B cruise with 600 doing this cruise and then the transatlantic back to Galveston. We will not have to clear customs nor check-in, nor go through security again as they will do everything for us. BTW-the most repeaters by far are from Texas. They had delivered Chocolate Covered Strawberries to the cabin when we returned and they were great for an afternoon snack. The Captains reception was held in the Grand Promenade this evening and they had a special 10th anniversary cake for the ship as it was it was the Voyager of the Seas tenth birthday. We went to Cleopatra's Needle, the new designated Diamond members lounge, for wine before dinner. As it was the Captain's reception they had a very nice dance band performing. Dinner was at 9:00 and we have a very nice six top table in the middle of the main dining room. The Captains Dinner menu was very good. I had the Escargot, Shrimp Cocktail, Beef Filet, and Grand Mariner Soufflé as my selections. There was a headwaiter brought me a plate of sliced Hearts of Palm (one of my favorites) that were fantastic. The primary entertainment was one of the production shows, Music in Motion, but having seen it and the lateness of the evening we retired to prepare for our first day in Italy.

Day Three-Tuesday-Naples, Italy

We slept very well and when we awoke and looked out our aft balcony we were docked at Naples. The ship was aft to the town so we had a great view of all the activities around the piers and a great view of Castel Nuovo. The weather was cloudy in the early morning, but would later become a beautiful day. We had room service breakfast delivered about 7:30 am as a wake up call to get out and see Italy. Our only plan for today was to see Pompeii, but we arranged for a nice private tour at the pier. Maximo was our driver and our first stop was Pompeii. It is really a spectacular place and not to be missed if ever in Naples. We spent 3 hours walking among the Roman ruins and seeing most of the major sites and restorations. Photo at right is typical Roman street. Our next stop was Sorrento which is located across the bay from Naples. It is a beautiful town with a great view, nice shops, and great restaurants. We ate at a restaurant formerly in an old church, the Basilica, and really enjoyed the food. I had the Cannelloni Sorrento and DW had a Capri style pizza (Mozzarella cheese & tomato). We also sampled the LimonCello the drink of Sorrento. We spent about two hours in Sorrento and then returned to Naples for a tour of the city highlights. The Old gate, Old (1st) Castle, and Church Square are interesting, all dating in the 13th and 14th centuries. Naples has very old sites and interesting buildings; however, it was not a clean city nor appears to have a positive spirit about it. It's a shame to see graffiti everywhere including fountains. Not as nice as Sorrento or Barcelona. We had Fruit and Cheese plates delivered by room service as a nice balcony snack and enjoyed some sangria wine we brought aboard in Barcelona. The Crown & Anchor Past Guest party was tonight and the feature production show this evening in the La Scala Theater was Knight Magic, but we skipped both for rest from all the walking today. Dinner was good although hard to go so late. DW had the Cheese Tortalini. I had the Maryland Crab cake, Shrimp Cocktail, Black Angus Sirloin Steak, with a Dulce De Leche Cheesecake for dessert.

Day Four--Wednesday-Civitavecchia, Italy

The weather was very nice today perfect for the tours we were taking. We again had room service breakfast and met our group of eight for a private tour of Rome. We used Rome-in-Limo Company (€90 pp) and they were perfect for seeing as much as possible with only one day in Rome. We were picked up at the dock and made the 1+ hour drive to Rome getting a history lesson on the way. The first major stop was the Colosseum. It is very impressive as is the area around the Colosseum and Arch of Constantine. We had about an hour to visit the Colosseum and area and then it was off to the location of the Circus Maximus (think chariot race in Ben Hur). Next stop was locations of the Roman Forums. Almost all ruins now, but there are columns of the various original buildings. Fortunately we had a guidebook that compared the existing ruins with what the original buildings looked like by using an overleaf in the book. It really helps to get an idea of what it looked like in early Roman times (Caesar and Augustus). There is really so much to take in in such a brief time. There were so many Temples, Forums, Arches, Columns, etc. to see. The Capital Hill area was also impressive especially the Pantheon. We drove by several other notable sites such as the Spanish Steps, Tiber Island, and so many more. We did stop at the famous and beautiful Trevi Fountain. We tossed some coins in the fountain as well as get an Italian ice crème from a local shop. This was a very busy morning and the Vatican area was scheduled for the afternoon, but now it was time for a lunch at a non-tourist family trattoria recommended by our guide. We stopped at Osteria dei Pontefici located near St. Peters and it was a wonderful experience and must be well thought of by the locals as there were two Cardinals and two priests at the next table We had a table for the eight in our group and were served family style. They brought bread and antipastos: Salami, Prosciutto, Bruchetta, Marinated Carrots, Eggplant, Zucchini, and an Egg dish. For entrees we were served a meat Ravioli and Penne Pasta in meat sauce. For dessert we had a small Tiramisu and Banana crème cake. Now it was time for the Vatican. The guide knew the time to drop us in order to avoid the larger tour groups and there was a very short line for admission. In order to save time we stayed in the main rooms of the Vatican Museum and a shortcut into the Sistine Chapel. The art and tapestries were numerous and beautiful, but of course Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel is the most impressive. After leaving the Museum area we entered the Basilica of Saint Peter. Wow, what can one say? Perhaps the most impressive building I have ever seen, it was both awe inspiring and impressive. We stayed as long as possible, but had to meet our guide and driver at 4:00 pm. for the return trip to Civitavecchia. We made it to the ship by 5:30 and time to rest. Dinner this evening was very good, I had the Stuffed Pasta appetizer, Jalipeno Potato Soup, the Turkey Tenderloin, and BBB for dessert. Then cabin time and rest for another big day.

Day Five- Thanksgiving-Thursday, Livirno, Italy

The weather was again pleasant and good for touring the Tuscan area of Italy. We shared a local taxi service with 6 others that would allow us to tour both Florence and Pisa on our own. This was a bargain (€40 pp) and also allowed us to be dropped in the best locations to tour each city. We first went to Florence passing the beautiful countryside and observing grape vineyards and olive trees. You could see the rolling hills and mountains in the distance. After an hour we arrived in Florence near the main cathedral piazza and first visited the Baptistery of St. Giovanni (4th-5th century and 1128), the Cathedral of Florence (1296-1375), and then the Academy Gallery that contains the original statue of David by Michelangelo. We then walked the several blocks to Piazza Della Signoria the location of the Palazzo Vecchio (1294), Neptune Fountain (1563), and the Loggia dei Lonzi (1376). The Loggia contains the original Rape of the Sabine Women (1583) a particular favorite as DW's family has a bronze that has passed through three generations. We then crossed over the famous Ponte Vecchio Bridge (1345) and stopped in a beautiful restaurant. For lunch we had pizza, spaghetti, and the local chianti wine. We walked through the Uffizi that contains many masterpieces of the old master artists but knew we did not have time to see them with the limited amount of time we had left. We met the taxi for the trip to Pisa and the taxi dropped us just a block from the Piazza del Duomo. The Cathedral (1063) and Leaning (Bell) Tower (1172 & finished in 14th century) are very impressive. Our visit is at a good time as the recent renovations and repairs are completed and the Tower has also been cleaned. This is a must see for tourists to this part of Italy. It was also fun watching tourists pose for photos holding up the tower. As you can see from the photo at top, there was a Voyager ship photographer there. I found that to be very convenient. The driver had us back to the ship in good time and dropped us right at the gangway. This being Thanksgiving the ship had a special Thanksgiving Dinner with Turkey, Dressing, Potatoes, Cranberries, and Pumpkin pie for dessert. The waiters ended Thanksgiving night by singing America the Beautiful.

Day Six--Friday-Villafranche, France

The day was very pleasant. Villafranche has a beautiful natural harbor and the Voyager anchors in the middle. The port has nice tenders and you get ashore in just 10-15 minutes. Our plan was to go to Monaco for the day. We tendered over about 9:00 am and took the short walk to the Villafranche train station. We bought return tickets (€5 pp) to Monaco and the train came straightway. It was only a 15 minutes trip on the train and we got off in the station in central Monaco. We walked to the famous Monte Carlo Casino visiting the gardens along the way. We then took the bus to the Royal Palace arriving in time to watch the Changing of the Guards ceremony. The palace museum was closed for the season, but we did visit the Cathedral and the graves of Princess Grace and Rainier. We found a fantastic Crêpe restaurant, Creperie du Rocher, just below the Palace in the Old Town area. I had a ham & cheese crepe, DW a cheese crepe, and we shared a carafe of wine and a dessert crepe. This was an excellent lunch. We were both very impressed with how all of Monaco is clean and well manicured with lots of flowers, especially in the palace area. We found the underground Train Station and had to wait a while for the next train, but we made it back to Villafranche harbor well before the last tender. DW stayed and shopped a bit at some stalls set up in the town as I returned directly to the ship. We attended the production show Broadway Rhythm & Rhyme before dinner and enjoyed the show. This was the final formal dinner and the menu was very good. My selections were the Shrimp Cocktail, Soup, Garden Salad, Fisherman's Platter (Lobster & shrimp) and the assorted dessert selection with vanilla ice crème.

Day Seven-Saturday-Toulon, France

We were scheduled to dock in Marseilles, but due to a potential dock strike we called on the port of Toulon. Toulon was the headquarters of the French navy and has a wonderful natural harbor. We had to take a shuttle into town as the Voyager is too large for the city piers and we docked across the harbor in La Seyne-Sir-Mer. Toulon is not one of the primary tourist destinations (although it will be a regular port of call for the Voyager next year) so it was fun walking around town and taking in the sites without lots of tourists. This was market day (photo at right) and there were hundreds of open air stalls set up with fresh vegetables, fish, olives, fruits, flowers, etc. It was beautiful and the olives and red peppers were most impressive. We had a wonderful crepe at a local stall as a morning snack as we didn't have breakfast on board. I really enjoyed the visit to the Muse National de la Marine, the National Naval Museum, located in the 18th century naval arsenal. They had a good display of items from the 18th-19th century and transition into modern navy. We saw some traditional Provence fabrics and pottery in the shops in old town and along the promenade of the harbor. We visited the local Saint-Louis church that was rebuilt after W.W.II. We shuttled back to the ship in the afternoon early enough to get a salad and made to order frittatas in the Windjammer as a late lunch. We had much needed cabin time to rest from all the walking we have done this week. We went to the Diamond lounge for wine before another good dinner.


No debarkation as we are staying aboard ship.


The Voyager has had a dry dock update since we last sailed in January, but I haven't noticed any major difference or update. Since this cruise was so port intensive we have not really explored the ship that well, but will do so on the next leg as we have more time.


The staff and crew are very good. The staff is very friendly, but I look for that to even improve once they again begin sailing form Galveston. Our waiter and assistant waiter were excellent. Our Stateroom Attendant, Norris, was good and kept the cooler in ice.


We had cabin 9692 an aft balcony on deck nine. It is an average sized cabin and a nice balcony. The safe has a button keypad and there is a hair dryer. The TV's were not upgraded during dry dock, they are the same old TV's. There are now two electrical plugs on the vanity/desk. BTW-you can check the status of your on board account using the RC-TV. We never used the cabin refrigerator. Norris didn't leave any mints on the bed at turn down as RCCL has eliminated them, but did some weak towel animals most nights.


We had second or late seating for dinner and it is even later on the Med cruises: 9:00 pm. Our dining room was the Carmen, deck three (lower level) of the 3 level restaurant. It was a six top table and it below the beautiful main chandelier. We enjoyed all the dinners in the dining room. We never ate at Johnny Rockets or Portifino. 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 usually had a fresh frittata 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 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. Service was very good when used.


The weather was very nice especially considering that we are sailing in late November. The days are short, but we usually got an early start on tours so we were back on board when Sundown came about 5:00 p.m. It never rained and a light jacket is all that was needed during the day.

Personal Comments

The new C&A Diamond members lounge was located in Cleopatra's Needle. We visited a few times, but were limited on drink selections. Taking away benefits earned under the loyalty program is not good. Benefits fairly earned should never have been reduced. The coupon book they now have has NO free items, only credits for very expensive items or small percentage off some more useful purchases. I know RCCL had to make some changes in the program, it was the way that it was handled is what I have been upset and concerned about. Believe me I want success for the company as I own stock beyond what is needed for a shareholder discount.

Cruise Highlights

The five ports were by far the highlight of this cruise. We really enjoyed each and everyone. So much history and culture to absorb. Our favorite port was Rome our least favorite was Naples. We really enjoyed this cruise! A LOT!

If anyone has any specific questions,
I usually 'hang out' on the message boards.