Sunday, January 16, 2011

Voyager of the Seas Review 1.9.2011

Voyager of the Seas Review 1.9.2011

Just The Facts
Ship: Voyager of the Seas
Dates: January 9-January 16, 2011
Captain: Frank Martinsen
Entertainment Director: Casey Pelter
Ports: Galveston-Roatan-Belize-Cozumel-Galveston
Weather: Good

This is my 15th Royal Caribbean cruise and 6th on the Voyager of the Seas. We booked this cruise very early in order to get our favorite aft cabin on deck seven. My uncle and cousin booked just a few weeks prior and got a nice inside cabin on deck six.

Day One--Sunday--Embarkation
We left the Ranch at 6:19 a.m. We are driving my uncle’s new GMC Acadia SUV and it is very nice especially since it will be raining most the way to Galveston. The weather turned cold as a cold front came through, but we will be ahead of any freezing weather. We had a nice, but slower drive to Galveston and Houston traffic was fine. The weather was better as we reached Galveston Island as the rain had already passed through. Rough for the people debarking earlier I’m sure. We arrived at EZ Cruise Parking about 11:35 and it was very empty, all the cars had already been cleared from the previous cruise. I later discovered that the Voyager arrived very early in port as Captain Frank wanted to beat the cold front to Galveston. We used the EZ Cruise shuttle from the parking lot to the pier. Since the ship was early the early arriving passengers had already boarded and it was a smooth process at check-in. We were aboard about 12:40. We first went to the Matre’D to get our dining assignments changed and as it was then close to the time that the cabins become available we just took our roll on bags to the cabin and refreshed. Amazingly DW’s checked bag came to the cabin right away although mine did not. We then went up to the Windjammer for lunch. The salads were very good as usual and I had the roast beef from the carving station. The roast beef was the best I have ever had on a cruise buffet. It was cooked all the way through yet still moist and tender. It was very very good. Hopefully a good sign for the rest of the cruise. We found our relatives and visited with them and new friends before touring the ship. Boat drill was about 4:15. You do not take your life jacket to the muster location. Your muster station is now prominent on your sea card so the crew uses that to assist passengers to the proper location. It was chilly as the temperature topped out at just over 52 degrees and you do muster on the outside decks. I wonder what they do if it’s really raining. We met our cabin Steward, Mr.C, from Nicaragua. We requested ice for our small cooler, robes, and for him to be on the look out for my bag. I’m beginning to suspect that it is being held. We sailed away just after 5:00 but it was too cool for the outside decks, we watched from the balcony for only a short while. We did go the Diamond Lounge for a few glasses of wine and met new friends. Dinner starts 15 minutes later on the first night and we met our party at our table in the dining room. Dinner was very good. I had the Vidalia onion tart, Tortilla tomato soup, the Pork medallions, and Savrin for dessert. The onion tart was exceptional and the pork very good. We saw our favorite head waiter from our 21 days aboard last year, Peter, who is now the Anytime Dining room manager and several other familiar faces. The ‘Welcome Show’ was at 10:00 pm in the theater, but we retired early.

MISSING BAG: By the time of our wine cocktails, I was sure that my bag was probably in the ‘naughty room’ so I made some queries. I have had to retrieve it there previously, but there was usually only a dozen+ bags in the security office and not a big deal. I was not prepared for what seems to be the new standard operational procedure. The new ‘naughty room’ is set up in the conference center and there had to be 400+ bags in there (later confirmed). I had to queue up in a line to retrieve the bag then proceed to a search area. I could tell when they found vodka in the mouthwash bottle of the person in front of me that it was a detailed search. I had eight coke bottles and this time a little contraband Capt Morgan. I was told your only allowed six bottles of coke, but they did let me keep it. They would return the contraband to your cabin on the last night of the cruise unless in was in an unsealed bottle. Here we had a bit of a controversy as I have used that same small pint plastic bottle of Capt. Morgan since 2007 and on 20+ cruises so technically the cap was unsealed. I preferred not want to lose that bottle, nor the contents secondarily, it was like a friend. Since they knew I wasn’t going to fully cooperate on that point and the fact that I did have the bottle shrink wrapped they agreed to return it. That was fair. I did look around to see what contraband had already been placed in huge luggage holders. It was about 50/50 as to being returned or destroyed. One person had checked 15 cases of water, that’s a bit extreme, not sure if any actually contraband in them. Most of the people in line had received a notice to show and collect their bag, but I received no notice in my cabin that they were holding my bag. However that problem could have been due to my cabin steward. FAIR WARNING: they are very closely inspecting passenger bags for contraband.

Day Two--Monday--at Sea
Cool this morning, but Captain Frank said we would be ahead of the cold front by the afternoon. DW ordered her usual Room Service breakfast in bed and I had breakfast in the Diamond section of the Carmen Dining Room. They now have a set breakfast menu with a feature item that changes daily. I had the special, a crab cake benedict, a unique eggs benedict type dish with a poached egg on a crab cake with hollandaise and asparagus . It was very good. I attended the Cruise Critic Meet & Mingle at 10:00 in the High Notes Lounge. There was a fair crowd and it’s always nice to put real names to screen names. They no longer serve good appetizers, but they had juice, coffee, and small finger sandwiches. Three from the entertainment staff did attend and had a little raffle. This gathering is not near as nice as a few years back. There was a little cabin crawl and we did get to see a ‘hump’ balcony and mini suite. After a nice Windjammer lunch, Roast Pork on the carving station, we had some very nice balcony time until it clouded up in the late afternoon. The Captains reception was this evening although we passed on attending. We did have wine in the Diamond lounge before we went to the Captains Gala Dinner. We met the Maitre’D and he is a very nice man and an asset to the ship. He was also impressed that I brought my own cocktail fork. I try to remain civilized. We had a wonderful dinner: Shrimp Cocktail, Escargot, Lobster Bisque, Seafood Brochette with scallops and shrimp on a monkfish, and the Filet Mignon with horseradish. For dessert I had the Baked Cherries and the Maitre’D sent some Hearts of Palm. No more Grand Mainer Soufflé, but the new dessert, Chocolate Soufflé with Espresso Custard is very good. This was an excellent dinner, one of the best ever on a cruise ship. The meat again was very good, the new chef does make a difference. There were a lot of passengers in the sports bars and promenade watching the BCS football championships, but we attended the late production show, Broadway Rhythm and Rhyme, in the La Scala Theater. This was also our first time to see Casey, the Cruise Director, and he seems very nice. The show we have seen a few times, but we still enjoy it, all the singers and dancers were very good. We retired to the cabin after the show. It was a long and fantastic first day at sea.

Day Three--Tuesday—Sea day
Weather is much better today. Midday temperature is 82°. I had breakfast in the Windjammer. DW had her room service and I again had a very good breakfast in the Carmen Dining Room. I forgot the name, but the special was an open-faced omelette with peppers, onions, potatoes, and bacon. We had some good balcony time before lunch. One of our favorite places on the ship is the Promenade Grill. They have the best sandwiches and well as cookies, pizza, and coffees. Our favorite sandwich was a Brie & Dried tomato on a wheat baguette with sunflower seeds. The four-cheese on focaccia bread was also nice. We had a nice afternoon buffet on the balcony. The Headliner Showtime was before dinner and featured The Unexpected Boys a tribute to Frankie Valle and the Four Seasons. We really enjoyed the show and it was a completely different cast from the last time we saw it on the Voyager. Dinner was again very good. The Maitre’D again sent Hearts of Palm. I had the Duck Pate, Indian Chicken Soup, Black Angus Steak, and a nice crusted Tilapia. We sampled several desserts: Apple Pie, Dulce de Leche Cheesecake, and a Fruit Pillow. After dinner we retired early to the cabin for some TV and rest.

CALL FROM CAPTAIN: After embarking I wrote a note to Captain Frank telling him about my 90 year old Uncle who was traveling with us and his Navy service during WWII. My uncle was at every major campaign in the South Pacific, including seeing the flag raised on Iwo Jima. He served as a radar man and his duty station was on the bridge so I thought if possible a bridge tour would be a great surprise for him. About 10:00 am Captain Frank called me in the cabin and said he would arrange it. My uncle, cousin, and I met security at 4:00 pm and we were escorted to the bridge. We were given a very nice and detailed tour and especially of the radar. Radar certainly has changed. Thank you Captain Frank.

Day Four--Wednesday--Roatan Island, Honduras
We arrived by 8:00 a.m. and the weather was fair although you really can’t see the mainland today. We are docked at Coxen Hole and over the years we have watched the dock area improve. The new little development on the pier is finished and does improve the looks and use of the docking area. I had a nice breakfast in the dining room and DW her breakfast in bed. Our waiter Bonneventura was working the dining room and came over to ask me if I knew a Mr. Pancake. I knew then that he must have spoke to Mr. Peter as that was my nickname from my 21 days on the Voyager (see previous Voyager review) last year. I ordered a pancake and it came with some nice bananas in it - not the norm. I admit the pancakes were much better than last year. This was a long running joke on my previous Voyager cruise. DW spent the morning on the balcony reading then hit the pool and I went to the pier to look around. I saw my cousin and we decided to try the zip line as there is now a zip line operator, Jungle Top Zip line, just a few minutes walk from the pier. It was my first time and a lot of fun, but more work than I anticipated with 18 lines so there was a lot of platforms to negotiate. There were also several very crude rope style bridges to cross between stations. After finishing the zip line we went back to the ship for lunch in the Windjammer. Very nice Roast Beef in the carving station. We saw some friends and they thought they would try the zip line so DW and I went back in the afternoon to Jungle Top. DW and friends did the zip line while I had a few Salva Vida’s at the little bar area. They had just three in their group and it went much better than our larger group that morning. DW really enjoyed the zip line and wants us to install one on our mountain on the ranch. Next time on Roatan we will try one of the other zip operators on the west end that we saw on previous trips. We had a few late tea time Windjammer snacks, the bread pudding is excellent, then after a strenuous day we rested until dinner. At dinner I had the Crab & Shrimp Salad, Jalapeño Potato Soup, Black Angus Steak, Encrusted Tilapia, and BBB for desert. We retired to the cabin to rest some sore muscles after dinner.

Day Five--Thursday--Belize
The weather is cloudy some scattered showers. Slower with our usual breakfast arrangements this morning as we are watching the weather, we are considering the cave tubing. We did board the tender to go ashore about 10:30 or so. Once ashore we made our way to the gate that Yhonny owner of meets tours. The last Cave Tubing tour bus left, but Yhonny put us in a nice new truck and the driver sped across Belize city and we caught the bus just before it entered the countryside. It was about an hour drive to the National Park. Once we arrived the 12 in our group were given tubes, helmets, and life jacket. We walked a nature trail about a mile crossing the river twice before reaching the entrance to the cave. I did sample some termites from a nest in a tree. They actually taste like mint. The water was cool, but not bad, the weather was also cloudy and cool so it was about the same. We entered the water and soon entered the cave, the cave being a lot longer than I anticipated. There are interesting formations and a few openings to daylight, but many places it was totally dark. The lights helped, when the water was shallow a ‘butts up’ warning was given. I did jump from the cliff into the river at the take out point so I was soaked. After the tubing we had a Biliken beer, diet Coke, and two tamales. The trip was fun and interesting, but not sure I would do it again. I really wanted to experience it since so many recommend it for Belize. is a very good operator and I do recommend them. We arrived back at the tourist area and had a look around the area outside the tourist area before heading to the ship tenders. It’s about a twenty minute tender ride from shore to ship depending on which tender you use. We went straight to the Windjammer for tea time snacks, when they made an announcement about the Ice Show. Since I was the only one in our group of four that had not seen it I went to the final show. I had a great front row seat. The show was the same show that have seen several times, but I enjoyed it and performers. The production show, Music in Motion was tonight, but we did skip having already seen it. We now have a different set of sore muscles to rest. Dinner was again very good. Our servers are just wonderful. I had the Scallop Risotto, Garlic Soup, Black Angus, Shrimp, and Tiramisù for dessert. DW had the vegetarian entrée: an Asparagus & Brie Tart which is their best vegetarian entrée in her opinion.

Day Six--Friday—Cozumel
Weather was cloudy and very windy today. We docked about 8:00 am. at the International Pier next to the Freedom of the Seas. There were six ships in Cozumel today including one of our favorites, the Conquest. I had another good dining room breakfast while DW had her room service. Due to the weather we had no big excursions planned, just an afternoon in San Miguel. We left the ship about 10:30 and took a taxi ($7) to town. We saw our friend Nelly at her new shop Caribbean Angel. She still has the Mayan Pearl shop too. Nelly said the previous day was the coldest day of the year in Cozumel. I had my hair cut at Antonio’s Barber Shop in the new location. Martin has been cutting my hair for over four years. We walked around the square then headed over to La Candela one of our favorite spots. We had some fresh Guacamole, a Quesadilla, a Margarita, and some Bohemia cervezas. We them went over to Wet Wendy’s to check on their progress. The bar is open and looks great. Even on a cool day they were serving a lot of frozen margaritas. We met Chad, the owner, and he is a sharp young man, formerly in the cruise business. I think they will be very successful. We sampled one of their signature huge margaritas (see photo) a pink flamingo I believe it was called, it had mango, strawberry, & coconut flavoring. It was great. We will return in February and this summer will be back and check some of their evening specialties. I think Wet Wendy’s will be successful and could become a BIG deal. The weather got a little better as we headed back to the ship. We did get to the Lido in time for the Bread Pudding and Scones. I had an appointment with the Loyalty Ambassador / future cruise desk at 6:00 and made two parallel bookings for existing bookings. The past guest reception was this evening in Cleopatra’s Needle and the entertainment in the La Scala Theatre was Gary Muleshoe. We skipped both, but cousin & uncle thought Muleshoe was the best show of the week. We have seen him on previous cruises and he is very entertaining. This was the second formal night and dinner was very good. I had the Ziti with Marinara Sauce, Hearts of Palm, Black Angus Steak, Lobster, and Cherries Jubilee.

Day Seven--at Sea
We had been sailing into a brisk north wind most of the night, but by morning it had calmed. Sunny today and our aft balcony is perfect as it blocks the wind. The Carnival Conquest has been following us since we left Cozumel and we can clearly see it from the balcony. It is Chocolate breakfast day in the dining room. You could get chocolate éclairs, donuts, cakes, chocolate pancakes, hot chocolate, chocolate milk shake, and more. What I sampled was very good. DW had her usual room service breakfast this morning. We watched a movie and worked on debarkation paper work in the morning. We had snacks in the Windjammer, they had ham on the carving station, also Boston Crème Pie in the sweets section. We had more balcony/cabin time until it cooled in late afternoon. I also needed to catch up on this review and notes as we have been busy this week. They did return my Captain Morgan bottle that was confiscated on day one. We went to the Farewell Showtime which featured the Orchestra, CD Casey, and comedian Milt Abel who was very funny. Dinner was again good. I had the Cesar Salad, again with Hearts of Palm, Shrimp Cocktail, Onion Soup, NY Strip steak, and Key Lime Pie for dessert. After dinner we returned to the cabin to pack.

We were docked by 6:45 am in Galveston. Captain Frank likes to get in early. No room service on debarkation morning, but a full breakfast menu in the dining room. They started allowing the self-debarkation people off just about 7:40 a.m. It was really fairly smooth considering how many people are using it. We rolled our bags to EZ Cruise parking and were on our way to fill up and head north. Gas was $2.86 in Galveston, and we crossed the bridge about 8:45 a.m. arriving home about 1:00 pm.

The Voyager of the Seas has become one of my favorite cruise ships. I actually like it better than the Rhapsody that it replaced three years ago. With a large ship there are a lot of people and the pools can be very crowded during peak times and the elevators are always full, but 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. Most of the bars and public areas are now smoke free as well as the casino on formal nights. The Grand Promenade is very impressive indeed and must be experienced.

The staff and crew are very good. Our waiters were excellent. The bar staff all very friendly. I really enjoyed the new Maitre'D. We really got to see a lot of him as he was filling in for the head waiter in our area. Might as well have the boss! A different ships officer visits the Diamond club each evening, that is a nice touch.

We have cabin 7388 a corner aft on starboard side. It is one of our favorite cabins on a cruise ship. The room is a standard size, or actually slightly smaller, but the balcony is one of the largest on the ship. The cabin was very clean when we boarded. Never used the refrigerator. The safe has a button key pad. Air worked well. A long walk to the stairwell and elevators, but I needed the exercise. Our cabin steward was good, but we didn't get all our mail I suspect, nor our Diamond gift and I think he was the weak point.

Our dining room is the LaBoheme, deck four the middle level of the 3 level restaurant. It was table 444 a six top table for the four of us with a nice view of the beautiful chandelier. Our waiter was Bonaventure and assistant was Ryan both from the Goa India area. Both were very good. Overall the dining room food was exceptional this cruise. The new chef does make a difference. The bread is very good and they serve a different specialty bread in the dining room each evening. The Windjammer is excellent. Best buffet at sea IMHO. Room service was always good and prompt. 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. There are several ice crème and yogurt machines. Room service is great.

Cruise Highlights
Dinner & Service in the dining room, Ice show, and the Broadway Rhythm & Rhyme production show.

Needs Improvement / Texanization
I really have no complaints or concerns at all. Texanization: They have done a very good job. They now do a great job with ice. They have added mustard, jalapeños, salsa, ranch dressing, etc. They have now even added Fox news. Too bad that the Voyager will not be returning to Galveston next year. We will have to Texianize the Mariner.

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. We were busy all week. We will miss the Voyager as she will be changing U.S. Home ports next year.

Overall a fantastic cruise!!

We are booked on the Mariner from Galveston for next January!!