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|
Once we got under way, the cruise itself was excellent. It has been my belief for some time now that Royal Caribbean International is a creative and imaginative company at the forefront of cruise industry innovation. I had previously sailed aboard Voyager of the Seas' younger sister, the Navigator of the Seas, but never the first of the Eagle-class ships. I was eager to experience Voyager. Ever since watching the fantastic documentary "Voyager of the Seas - First of the Voyager Class Ships: Building the World's Largest Cruise Ship," I have been fascinated with this ship that spawned a whole fleet, accumulating with the the current largest cruise ships in the world, the Oasis and Allure of the Seas.
Now 12 years old, the Voyager has held up admirably well and remains a seminal vessel. The stateroom cabinets and upholstery as well as the outdoor deck railings could certainly use refurbishment, but the bulk of the public areas still shine. The ship represents an industry benchmark for its introduction of so many revolutionary cruise ship features. It just astounds me that this ship has an ice rink onboard, requiring the whole deck's worth of space beneath it for chilling equipment, and the Royal Promenade – the open "mall" space stretching most of the ship's length from atrium to atrium – is so unique with its mixed-use retail, dining, and entertainment applications as well as the inside staterooms with a view overlooking the boulevard.
I'll always recall the great Royal Caribbean commercial during their "Get Out There" campaign that opened on a tight shot of a man scaling a glacier with another man outstretching his arm to 'save' him and exclaiming, "I won't leave without you, man!" Cut to a wider shot, and now a woman standing atop the glacier replies with the pithy comeback, "Hey guys! If you don't cut this out, I'm going to miss my massage!" Then played the pop beats of Iggy Pop's Lust for Life over a fast-paced video montage of all that Royal Caribbean as a brand espouses: adventure, entertainment, family fun, and relaxation. To this day, I consider it to be one of my favorite commercials because it was so delightfully humorous while getting its full point across concisely and entertainingly. This cruise onboard Voyager included all of those elements promised in Royal Caribbean's marketing.
While this was my first solo cruise without my family along, I definitely felt the adventure of the journey, enjoyed the ship's entertainment and relaxed along the way. With so many great shore excursion and entertainment options, I made new friends to enjoy the adventures with. One such excursion was Salsa, Salsa, and Margaritas, an interactive salsa and margarita making jaunt in Cozumel, Mexico, our first port of call. After pairing up with another "chef" at your table full of ingredients, you're off to learning how to make seven salsas and two margaritas along with being instructed on how to salsa dance, thus the double reference to salsa in the tour's title.
It's a fun, educational experience, emceed by energetic hosts and servers, and one well suited for solo travelers and families alike. Even those choosing not to drink any alcohol were equally included in making the salsas and were offered non-alcoholic drinks instead. Chips, quesadillas, and taquitos are served to sample your new salsa creations with, and at the end of the session, you are given a sheet with all of the recipes on it to take home with you.
The adventures really began when we got to Grand Cayman. Here with my new friends, we went for a Stingray Swim. After a 30 minute boat ride off the coast of the island we came to a pristine sandbar with beautiful, clear, teal waters only three to four feet deep. Here stingrays, fully safe to touch, commune with visitors in a wild but well controlled area. Similar to dolphin swims I've enjoyed in the past, you can interact pretty freely with the animals following brief instructions on stingray etiquette so as to avoid hurting them and getting a stingray hickey yourself.
To the touch, the stingrays are silky and almost slimy, even though they really aren't, and are very similar to the feel of dolphins – although the rays' looser epidermis doesn't seem to be nearly as wetsuit-like firm and is mildly prickly in spots almost as though they have goosebumps. A waterproof camera is highly recommended for this excursion, but if you'd rather just enjoy the experience sans photo gear, the guides take photos of you with the rays that you can purchase on the return boat ride. The guides are also great at ensuring that everyone gets equal face time, as it were, with the rays, although there are plenty swimming about that you can mingle with easily on your own.
As Emeril would say, the adventure got kicked up a notch as our cruise continued. In Falmouth, Jamaica, we journeyed out to an old sugar plantation that has since been converted into an adventure facility offering a wide range of physical activities like zip-lining, tubing, hiking, ATV riding, and canoeing to visitors of varying physical prowess. Our particular tour consisted of zip-lining and tubing. I had never gone zip-lining before but had always wanted to. In short, it's an absolute blast. After building up the courage to sit into your harness and release your legs off the platform, you can't help but feel like Indiana Jones whisking through the thick foliage of the forest canopy. It's quite a view and adrenaline rush combined.
After a morning of steamy, sweaty humidity strapped into a harness and helmeted up, it was ever so nice to take a dip in the comfortably cool river below the zip-lines, relaxing outstretched in an inner tube for a 45 minute or so float down the water. The tubes are tied together into a flotilla of about four in number, and each grouping is taken by a friendly guide downstream and into a series of minor but exciting rapids. Along the way, your guide will point out the surrounding flora and fauna, and you will also have the opportunity if you wish to get out of the tubes and swim freely for a bit. Such a swim is extremely refreshing, and the whole tubing experience was so relaxing to float down what appeared to me like a curious but perfect cross between the Jordan River in Israel and the Jungle Cruise at Disneyland.
Afterwards, we briefly stopped off at the beautiful plantation house for a quick look-see. Ordinarily, this location would offer a nice leisurely sit-down lunch, but our tour sampler for the day was behind schedule. So, we had to take our lunch to go on the bus back to the pier. Jamaican cuisine is quite tasty. Our great meal included jerk chicken, fish, and a fantastic rice concoction.
The tour we rushed back for was an afternoon outing on the Captain Hook Adventure. To be sure, there likely in a niche market that this excursion would appeal to, but it wasn't our group. Featuring a cast of pirate characters led by the so-called Captain Hook, the show was a barely discernible, narrative mess. It tried to be equal parts dance cruise, booze cruise and pirate show, a combination that did not succeed. The overall effect was derivative and kitschy. A lunch of less than appetizing hot dogs and chicken nuggets was included as were alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks. The sailing was occasionally amusing, and the performers really did give it their all. As is currently, I simply cannot recommend this tour. Truly, the only saving grace is that this 'adventure' affords a great photo-op of your ship docked back at the pier. But by no means is all lost due to one bad experience. True adventure was still to be had on the bulk of our excursions, and that is what Royal Caribbean is known for.
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