November 28 2011 | Latest News
"Voyager of the Seas is as luxurious as it is long."
Sunday, November 27, 2011
By: Jerry McLeod, Times -Picayune
It sailed in smoothly overnight, slinking up the Mississippi River and gliding into place at the city's new Julia Street Cruise Terminal on Nov. 12, becoming the largest vessel of its kind to dock in New Orleans.
Enlarge The Times-Picayune Retail shops and bars line the Promenade. On Board the Voyager of the Seas gallery (16 photos)
The ship's presence in the city is a post-Katrina milestone, bringing to four the number of cruise ships sailing into and out of the port, bringing thousands of tourists with them.
Royal Caribbean's Voyager of the Seas is an awesome sight, stretching 1,020 feet long -- longer than four 747s lined up nose to tail on an airport runway -- and 157.5 feet across, just 3 feet shorter than a football field. Voyager's draft (the depth of water it needs to navigate) is 29 feet, and it towers approximately 155 feet into the air.
The ship consists of more than 300,000 steel pieces meticulously assembled after three years of planning, and it was completed in 1999 in the bitterly cold city of Turku, Finland.
Through April, Voyager will call the warmer climate of New Orleans home, having sailed here from a stint in Venice, and before that from Galveston, Texas. In April, as hurricane season approaches, it will shove off for a stay in Asia.
But for now, on Saturday mornings when she's in port, New Orleanians will wake to find the ship hulking over the Riverwalk, challenging the height of the Crescent City Connection.
The luckier ones will get to pass through the still-rough-around-the-edges Cruise Terminal, onto the gangway and into the floating city for a seven-day cruise down the river, into the Gulf of Mexico and on to the western Caribbean Sea, with stops in Cozumel, Mexico; George Town, Grand Cayman; and Colonial Falmouth, Jamaica.
Cruisers can leave the ship for any number of ship-sanctioned excursions in those ports, explore on their own, or simply stay aboard and enjoy the comforts of world-class accommodations.
There are 14 public decks housing 1,557 passenger cabins capable of comfortably sleeping 3,830 guests, and 667 crew cabins on Deck 1 where employees have their own dining rooms and disco and a staff who pampers them after they've pampered their passengers.
Decks 6 through 10 are filled with cabins of all shapes, sizes and prices. Choose from superior or deluxe ocean view staterooms; family or large ocean view staterooms; Promenade staterooms, featuring bowed windows with views down into the mall; or interior staterooms.
My home for the week was on Deck 8, aft (that's ship talk for rear), in a "Superior Ocean View Stateroom with Balcony." I opened the door and was greeted by a view straight through to the 50-square-foot private balcony, and the "wows" began.
VOYAGER OF THE SEAS: FIRST CRUISE
- Day 1: Mammoth ship's arrival helps revitalize New Orleans cruise industry
- Day 2: A shaky Saturday in port and a Saintly Sunday at sea
- Day 3: Salsa- and margarita-making in Cozumel.
- Day 4: Swimming with the stingrays in Grand Cayman.
- Day 5: Voyager makes its way to Jamaica, mon.
- Day 6: Voyager of the Seas is a floating feast.
- Day 7: Country superstar Martina McBride welcomes Voyager to New Orleans with an on-board concert.
There's a spacious closet with hangers, a luggage rack and shelving to the left, and a door that opens to a small but well-appointed bathroom. This room was more than enough room for myself, and could be just right for two people alone or with a small child. It's downright plush, with only a few signs here and there that the ship is 12 years old and has entertained thousands of travelers from all over the world.
I had feared the worst about the bathroom. Would it be like a recreational vehicle, where you have to sit on the toilet to use a handheld shower? Would it be claustrophobic?
My fears were unfounded. There's plenty of room for someone to use the well-lighted lavatory or regular-size toilet while another person is in the super-cool round shower. (It has more water pressure and hot water than my old house in Bywater.)
To the left of the entrance, past the closet is a vanity/desk, with enough lighting for applying makeup, writing postcards or using a laptop, but be warned: There's no WiFi or Ethernet hookup available in the stateroom. (There are hot spots on the ship and a library with PCs; Internet connection is slow and pricey at 65 cents a minute. But you're on vacation. Disconnect already.)
The television on the end of the vanity/counter pulls out and turns to allow for viewing from the love seat across the room or from the bed -- two twins that convert into a cozy queen. (The TV is neither digital nor flat-screen -- there's an onboard TV studio broadcasting ship information and a few basic channels such as CNN and the Cartoon Network -- but who wants to watch TV on a cruise? Unless, of course, you tune to ESPN for, say, a Monday-night Saints game.)
The balcony is roomy, with two chairs and a table and views like ones you've read about.
No matter whether your budget allows a balcony or a windowless interior, remember that, unless you're on a honeymoon or just need alone time, your room is just where you crash after enjoying all the activities, food and fun in the ship's never-congested public areas.
After unpacking, with closet space and drawers to spare, it was time to explore the rest of the Voyager city. My starting point had to be the Royal Promenade on Deck 5, because it's centrally located and I needed a snack with a cold beer.
Running the length of a football field, the Promenade is a common meeting place not unlike a mall, with a jewelry store, a perfumery, a gift shop and clothing store, a cafe with pizza, sandwiches and pastries -- and Ben & Jerry's ice cream for $4.95 a scoop, not included in the all-inclusive cruise price -- a sports bar, karaoke bar and a tuxedo rental store (in case you forgot to pack for the optional but eye-popping formal nights).
The Promenade is where crew members stage dance parties, "sidewalk sales" and parades.
At the aft entrance to the Promenade is the Guest Relations and Explorations counter, where passengers can request special services, check the balance on their SeaPass cards, which doubles as your room key and ID for leaving and reboarding the ship. (Cash is virtually useless on board), or book on-shore excursions. There's also an ATM here, but the fee is $6 on top of your bank's charge, so bring plenty or get credit-card advances in the casino.)
The forward entrance/exit to the Promenade delivers guests to the Connoisseur Club for rare brandies and cigars; or Cleopatra's Needle, a large space with room for a small stage/dance floor where karaoke, big band dances and theme parties are held for the more refined crowd.
On Deck 4, back toward the ship's center and directly under the Promenade, are the stunning Aquarium Bar with settees and bar service, a piano/violin combo and eye-popping scenery featuring 50 tons of glass and aquatic-themed fixtures. But no live fish, in case you were wondering.
Enlarge Kerry Maloney KERRY MALONEY / THE TIMES-PICAYUNE The Royal Caribbean International's Voyager of the Seas docks at the Port of New Orleans for the first time Saturday morning Nov. 12, 2011. The ship will be docking weekly in New Orleans and is the largest cruise ship ever to homeport here. Voyager of the Seas docks Saturday, Nov. 12, 2011 gallery (5 photos)
Continue forward into the glittering, whizzing and whirring, clanking and cranking excitement of the ship's Casino Royale. Try your luck on everything from penny slots to blackjack, roulette and nightly lottery drawings. The casino takes cash (a lot if you're not careful) or your credit-card fueled SeaPass card.
The casino is one of only three places (the other two are bars) where smoking is allowed inside, but for every cruise there's at least one smoke-free night for sensitive gamblers.
When Lady Luck has had her way, continue forward into the elegant and inviting Schooner Bar for nightly piano-bar entertainment and perhaps the most efficient bartenders onboard. (Say hello to Dhar, from India.) From the low-slung chairs and couches in the Schooner, there's a view to the outside and the added attraction of watching guests leave shows in the stunning Saenger-like La Scala Theatre (balconies! a bar! an old-school curtain!) one deck below. And there's the thumping, bumping, disco-beat seeping from the nearby top-floor entrance/exit to the ship's disco, The Vault.
The disco set had to go down to Deck 3 to enter the The Vault, where two-left feet turn into Travoltas, where heels are discarded for stocking-footed swings around the dance floor and complete strangers become laughing, line-dancing friends. It's where inhibitions go overboard and high-seas hangovers are hatched. And it's where New Orleanians hear the words that are never uttered in the Big Easy: "Last call for alcohol." At 3 a.m.?
You'll thank them for that call later, when the room service you've ordered is delivered or you've tumbled out of bed and headed to the breakfast buffet in the Windjammer on Deck 11, aft. (Breakfast choices are plentiful, but no one really raves about it.)
And you'll barely notice The Vault later when you're back on Deck 3, sitting in Studio B and being wowed by an exciting and colorful ice-skating show in the first rink ever built on a ship. Tickets to the ice shows are free and are handed out on a first-come, first-served basis before showtime.
Once you've waved goodbye to New Orleans from your private balcony as the sun begins to set, the ship turns and saunters down the Mississippi River for a silky eight-hour cruise that floats into the open waters of the Gulf.
Check your SeaPass card for your assigned dining room, table and seating. (Mine was at 8 p.m.; first seating is at 5:30 p.m.) Take your appetite to one of three main dining rooms: Carmen on Deck 3; La Boheme on Deck 4; and Magic Flute on Deck 5. The upper ones essentially look over the Carmen, which features a massive chandelier in the center reminiscent of the one from the original "Poseidon Adventure" movie.
Your meals here are included in your cruise package, with wine or other alcoholic beverages extra, and are served in grand style by a staff of more than 100 waiters. Can't decide on one appetizer? Order two. Same for the entree and dessert.
Get to know your table mates, unless you've signed up for optional My Time Dining, through which you can choose a private table and make reservations at times other than the designated seatings. If you just can't stand the people you've been seated with, speak privately to the maitre d' and you will be moved as space allows.
You're not obligated to eat in the dining room, though. Go light in the aforementioned Cafe Promenade, where all but the Seattle's Best coffee drinks and sodas are free; go up to Deck 12, aft, pay an additional $4.95 service charge per person and have a burger, fries and shake at the 1950s-style diner Johnny Rockets. Or to Deck 11, aft, for a world-class Italian meal in the jaw-dropping beauty of Portofino, where a $20 per diner service charge is the best money you'll spend on the cruise.
After dinner, entertainment options are outstanding. Never feel out of the loop by perusing the ship's daily "newspaper," the Cruise Compass, that magically appears in your stateroom each evening. The first one explains the ship's rules, answers questions about safety and introduces you to the people in charge. It also lists onboard activities by morning, afternoon and evening, and lists all the ship-sponsored excursions available at the three ports.
VOYAGER OF THE SEAS
- What: The Royal Caribbean's 3,830-passenger cruise ship.
- When: Seven-night cruises to the western Caribbean sea, leaving every Saturday afternoon at 4 and returning every Saturday morning at daybreak.
- Where: Stops at Cozumel, Mexico; George Town, Grand Cayman; and Colonial Falmouth, Jamaica. For more information about the excursions; see D-8.
- Cost: Prices vary widely, from a few hundred to a couple thousand dollars depending on accommodations, dates of travel and available discount packages. (Prices for some December departure dates start as low as $349; the cheapest listed price for the Christmas Eve cruise is $989.)
- Information: Talk to your travel agent or visit royalcaribbean.com.
Make reservations on your interactive TV, at the guest relations desk or online before boarding. There are so many options that no one should be disappointed. And you are free to make your own plans; just don't miss the deadline to reboard.
Burn off those dinner calories by clapping at the ice show, taking in a Broadway-style show, laughing at a comedian, playing bingo, taking part in an adult "game show," or going to the casino. Have little ones? Escort the children to Deck 12 to the amazing arcade, Adventure Beach or Adventure Ocean areas built just for them.
Or, change into your swimwear or comfy shorts and stroll down to Deck 11 for a dip in the salt-water pools or whirlpools under the stars.
There are some 2,000 lounge chairs around the pools and on the upper decks overlooking them. Stake out the spot you will occupy on Sunday when you wake up in the warm Gulf of Mexico on your way to the even warmer Caribbean. Save room after breakfast and lunch for an afternoon barbecue buffet by the pool while the resident reggae band plays. You'll never get thirsty; bat an eye and a waiter appears.
If lounging is not your style, check out Deck 13, aft, and scale the rock-climbing wall, run or walk the mile-long track or check on times when in-line skating takes place. Get a gang together to shoot some hoops, or play volleyball or miniature golf.
Pamper yourself in the Voyager Day Spa on Deck 12, forward, or work out on any of scores of exercise contraptions in the Shipshape Fitness Center just below on Deck 11. Get the impurities out in the steam rooms, saunas or fitness center whirlpool. Then enjoy the ocean breeze and sights below from the Sky Bar, just outside the spa.
Looking for divine inspiration? Head to the rear of the ship, climb up past Deck 14 and enjoy the solitude of the Skylight Chapel.
While you're there, say a little prayer that the Voyager of the Seas has a successful stay in New Orleans. The city needs the Royal Caribbean treatment.