Royal Caribbean International / bad christmas cruise
I’ve been fortunate to enjoy many fine traveling experiences in my lifetime, but my experience aboard the Royal Caribbean Voyager of the Seas during this past Christmas is not among them. I will never cruise again on ANY ship; I do not have any animosity toward Royal Caribbean; I do not want to be contacted by anyone affiliated with RC to compensate or apologize to me; I simply wish to warn others about making the mistake of booking this trip. You really need to accept giving up your freedom if you cruise.
My wife and I are in our forties and we travelled with our 17 and twenty-year-old daughters. I speak for all of them by saying this was hands-down the worst family vacation we ever planned. If you are considering taking the Royal Caribbean Christmas Cruise out of Galveston and you have teenage children, I strongly recommend you consider our experience. Here is the good and the bad:
Boarding in Galveston: Extremely efficient process. We stayed at the Hilton the night before and enjoyed a complimentary shuttle to the pier. Hilton parked our vehicle free.
Stateroom: Room was hospital-clean; however, there was a distinct sewage odor upon opening the door to the stateroom. The room attendant did his best to correct it, and his efforts seemed to help initially. By midweek, we realized the odor was not emanating from the bath but from the ventilation system and it was affecting the adjoining room occupied by my children. RC was very courteous about the problem, but could not repair it and could not relocate us on the ship because there were no available rooms.
Luggage: Everyone in my family received their luggage except me. I finally got mine at 11 p.m. and would have had it sooner if the staffer who called me could actually speak reasonable English. By the time I got to sleep Sunday night, buyer’s remorse was setting in and never really ended for me.
Food: We live in the Dallas area and are certainly spoiled by great restaurants. The food on board was not bad, but certainly lackluster. Aside from the nice presentation and the opportunity to replace any dish you did not like, it is definitely not remarkable unless you appreciate quantity. The ship faces a daunting task trying to feed 3, 000 people in short time periods, so make your mind up before you go to expect somewhat bland food for an entire week. Plan ahead to pay for the upgraded meals occasionally to break the monotony. We could not wait to eat something with some spice in it when we got off the ship. I know we are spoiled; it’s just that I would never plan a trip where I eat hotel food for seven days.
Staff: Very friendly and genuinely engaged all of us. Unfortunately, my stateroom attendant seemed to be in fear of me since I repeatedly told customer service about the odor in our cabins. It was not his fault but apparently he was blamed. I did see a technician working on the air handler in the hallway but the problem never went away.
Weather: Probably the most compelling reason you should reconsider this trip. It was 47 degrees in Galveston upon departure and still too cold on Monday to be on deck. We had good weather in Cozumel, Grand Cayman and Jamaica, but a storm appeared on Friday after lunch and it quickly became too cold or windy to enjoy the deck. My teenagers had a misconception that they would be in deck chairs for most of the trip, but with the exception of Friday morning, it was too cold.
Age of children: Royal Caribbean can’t help this, but there is very little for a 17 and 20 year –old to do aboard this boat. If you have small children, perhaps pre-middle school age, I think it would be fine.
Excursions: Without getting too lengthy here, the excursions are fine but the mechanics of getting so many people off the ship and onto shuttles takes up too much of the days ashore. Yet another compelling reason to take your dollars and fly to a resort of your choice and not have to deal with lines and transfers. It isn’t that RC isn’t well organized, it’s just a time consuming process to get 3, 000 people where they wish to go. I cannot imagine what it would be like on their newest, even larger craft. In Jamaica, I hired a cab to take us to a private beach just so we could avoid the shuttle herds. I regretted doing so on the return trip back to the ship because beggars were tapping on the windows of the cab and my daughters were justifiably frightened. I really cannot imagine why RC stops there.
Communication: I own my own business and unfortunately I always travel with the laptop and cell phone. I’m used to paying some high fees, but the rates aboard the ship are the worst I’ve encountered anywhere. I did make arrangements with AT&T before the trip so I could concentrate my cell use while ashore and not on the boat where it’s $6.95 per minute. The web speed onboard was excellent and I had no email issues.
Departure: My bill came to my room as promised on Sunday morning, but not without an overcharge. I got to wait in line at customer service only to be told the computers were down but they would correct my bill. I told him a final time about the odor in our room and he said he would make a note of it. He made no such note and some other poor souls spent a week the same way we did. I know that computers fail everywhere, but it did disappoint me again when my visa bill arrived without the correct charges and I had to call RC and write a letter to Visa to protest the charge. RC did agree to correct it.
In summary, we just don’t get it. My family felt trapped in a hotel for a week with the exception of the three days of excursions where more time is spent on the transfers than on the activity itself. If I had flown to a destination and had the sewer odor problem, I would have cut my losses and returned home early. I realize many people enjoy cruises, but my family got a good lesson in making the best of a disappointing situation and we learned how much fun we’ve had on our other vacations enjoying our FREEDOM. For my family, we enjoy doing what we want, when we want and eating when and wherever we wish while on vacation. Other than the Disney trips when the kids were little, we don’t go places where we stand in lines. I backpacked across Europe after college and stayed in my share of unpleasant accommodations, but I would never consider putting my family in those conditions, especially not when trapped aboard a ship. My last thought before drifting off to sleep each night was wondering if Legionnaires disease had an odor.
A final humorous note: we took advantage of the early departure offer and carried our own luggage from the ship. The Hilton shuttle greeted us at the dock and we were quickly transferred back to the hotel parking area. You could sense the relief as we closed the doors on the Suburban to make the drive back to Dallas. We had only travelled a few blocks before my wife asked “My gosh, do you smell that? It’s following us!”
The unpleasant odor of the staterooms had permeated our luggage. We pulled into a Starbucks and drank coffee while watching the open windows of the Suburban!
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