With the introduction of Voyager of the Seas to New Orleans, Royal Caribbean heralds its return to the Mississippi port city.
|Voyager of the Seas|
Overall, I was extremely pleased with my culinary experience onboard the Voyager of the Seas as Royal Caribbean's food has certainly improved from my previous sailings on its ships. The main dining room, itself a spectacularly well designed restaurant architecturally, offered up some very appetizing dishes. While I would still consider the cuisine here a notch below Celebrity Cruises, Royal Caribbean's sister premium brand, I was very pleased, for example, by their fresh Caprese salad and fulfilling scallop risotto as well as the flavor-explosive, unique entrée of southwestern inspired rigatoni with chorizo sausage slices, peppers and onions.
Surprisingly, I found myself more impressed by the food at the main dining room than I was at Portofino, the ship's specialty Italian restaurant. The dinner here was certainly enjoyable but not to the degree I was expecting given the $20 cover charge. For instance, the shrimp risotto was not as good as the scallop risotto downstairs nor was my filet mignon entrée. Interestingly, the meat I had in the main dining room was juicier and more flavorful overall. The pastas here at Portofino were tasty, however, and the restaurant definitely did not disappoint come dessert. The presentations were theatrical, and the fantastical shapes arranged in and delicious flavors drawn from chocolate were astounding.
Maybe I'm a simple food guy when it comes down to it because I still hold that the culinary gem on this ship is Johnny Rockets. I have always been a fan of 50s diners, and there is just something special about that vintage music being played from a coin-op paired with a big juicy hamburger, french fries, and a flavored Coca-Cola or milkshake. Then take that combination and place it on the top deck of a cruise ship at sea. And with it, you may not have fine dining, but you sure have yourself a culinary treat and my personal favorite dining venue on this ship. After all, I made five visits on our seven day cruise.
Royal Caribbean International touts its entertainment, and well it should. Nowhere else at sea can you take in a full ice show or a parade down the center of the ship. These are impressive feats onboard a cruise ship, and, at least in the case of the ice show, these shows stand out on their own as exceptional productions. From small venues to large ones, there are entertainment options onboard Voyager of the Seas sure to appeal to nearly everyone.
Our particular cruise sailed at a point where the entertainment was in transition from the Mediterranean itineraries it had just finished to the Caribbean ones it was just beginning. The cruise director was switching out after our trip, and our seven day cruise featured only one main production show instead of the typical two. So, we likely had a smattering of acts left over from the previous season combined with some fresh ones starting to come onboard.
Our first formal night featured a Motown singing trio, dubbed Horizon, in the main theater instead of a production show, and this act didn't quite live up to its potential. These performers were good, but they just lacked a certain vocal punch and energy. They were pleasantly comedic and playfully interactive with the audience, an effect that was often more successful than their singing. When you exit the main show lounge to be more delighted by the great band playing in the Royal Promenade than the show you just saw, it tells you something.
In fact, my experience during this cruise, up at least until we saw the ice show and singular production show, was that the acts at the smaller venues were better than those in the main show lounge. The 50s/60s dance party and later the 70s dance party hosted at the Royal Promenade were a lot of fun and made great use of the space as an entertainment venue with impressive music and lighting. A bustling street atmosphere is definitely achieved with the only caveat being that this busy intersection of shopping, dining and dancing creates a bottleneck in the flow of pedestrians attempting to traverse from stem to stern. Still, any delay in passing is at least rewarded with fantastic sights and sounds.
The Party Around the World parade that took place here on the last sea day closes down the street to traffic for about 15 minutes. Here the Royal Promenade as an entertainment venue has a chance to fully shine, but in practice the show is a bit underwhelming despite well costumed performers. There really is no narrative, and the players nonchalantly traverse the length of the corridor along with a handful of crew members waving flags designating their respective ship departments. The show is very kinetic with the use of wind machines, dazzling lights, and a Segway scooter, but the production just needs more cohesion and energy to take it from good to great.
The real standout shows are "Ice Odyssey" and "Rhythm and Rhyme." The ice rink onboard is situated in Studio B, the ships alternative show and activity venue that can cover the ice with a regular floor as needed. Here "Ice Odyssey" presents an abstract narrative, more commonly the direction for Royal Caribbean entertainment that is understood across all languages.
You so quickly lose yourself to the vibrant performance of colorfully costumed skaters gliding gracefully across the cool surface. The music builds and the lighting enchants as these skaters begin to aggressively chisel the ice with increased speed and agility. The overall effect of the show succeeds as a medley of tightly synchronized group choreography interspersed between solo and duo performances. Sitting in a chilled environment, you can't help but be transported by the spectacle before you. This show is a must see.
"Rhythm and Rhyme," was the only production show during our cruise, but it was excellent. It was more or less a typical cruise-fare medley of Broadway tunes, but the vocal and dance performances were extremely solid. The set pieces were limited but extremely well done. The tiered band stand was framed in by an arched curtain that was decorated with the names of the featured Broadway composers spelled out in popcorn lights. The lighting design was also impressive and well featured in a "recording studio" scene partly obscured by a fog scrim and showcasing three female vocalists. The intimate set was wonderfully colorful and cinematic in its art direction.
I must admit I had grown accustomed to watching such shows on cruises from the upper balcony as I'm partial to that perspective. However, this time I was front and center and only about 5 rows back. There is something to be said for how much more the sound and the experience in general impact you at this position. Kudos to the entire show team.
The one event during the cruise that is equal parts show and equal parts activity is The Quest, which has become a staple of Royal Caribbean's. Advertised as showcasing the adult side of the cruise line, this game show is a scavenger hunt that incorporates everyone in attendance at the venue – on this ship it was Studio B. The entire hunt remains inside the one room and is played by six teams, crowds divided by bleacher section. The cruise director is the emcee and assigns points to the teams as they meet the requirements of each "quest."
Quests – which must be met and then seen and confirmed by the cruise director wherever in the room he or she may be, adding a bit of a hide-and-go-seek element – range from docile ones such as a man giving a woman a piggyback ride to more suggestive ones such as a man wearing lipstick, keeping in mind that the lipstick need not be worn on the lips.
Things get rather adult as quests ramp up quickly to include seeking as many men per team wearing bras as well as seeking women's thongs. People really get into this game as many repeat cruisers will participate to the point of radically dressing up for the event in anticipation for the wild expectations of the quests. For instance, there was one man dressed up in a full body Elmo costume. The game is extremely amusing for those who choose just to watch and surely a hoot for those who actively participate.
For passengers seeking more mainstream activities, certainly unique to cruise ships and focusing back on adventure, there is the aft upper deck of the Voyager at your disposal complete with the infamous rock climbing wall situated immediately behind the smoke stack. Here there is also a full basketball and volleyball court, a 9-hole miniature golf course, and roller skating course. For children, there is a water slide that spirals down a deck to the extensive kid's facility onboard including venues and activities for every age. This is also the deck that appropriately features a massive arcade as well as Johnny Rockets.
From the adventures to be had onboard and ashore to the indulgences of culinary treats, as well as the relaxation of lounging around by the pool, going to the spa, or shopping the Royal Promenade, Royal Caribbean International has you covered. With the Voyager of the Seas now sailing from New Orleans, you can enjoy the historic city and all its wonders just before or after enjoying a fun Western Caribbean cruise complete with adventure, entertainment, family fun, and relaxation.
For an even more detailed report with additional pictures, click on over to my Virtual Cruise here.
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