When Voyager of the Seas arrives in Sydney this November she’ll be bringing some very special guests with her. Aleney de Winter and family take a sneak peak on their recent sojourn at sea.
“Mama, I think it’s grown!” announces a bemused Raff as we prepare to board Royal Caribbean’s Voyager of the Seas in Singapore for an eight-night cruise to Shanghai. This isn’t our first voyage on this lovely lady of the sea but her enormous bulk is no less impactful the second time around. In fact I think we’d all forgotten just how buxom a beauty she actually is.
Voyager of the Seas hasn’t actually “grown” any bigger (that would just be plain weird) but for families the newly-refurbished megaliner has definitely gotten better – and she was already great!
One of the world’s largest cruise ships, Voyager of the Seas is 311m long, 48m wide and with 15 passenger decks that accommodate 3114 guests at double capacity (or 3840 in total). When she arrives in Sydney she will be the biggest cruise ship to ever call Australia home.
And this is one case where bigger really is better. Voyager of the Seas offers all the best signature Royal Caribbean amenities including a rock-climbing wall that soars 61 metres above sea level, a nine-hole miniature golf course (a huge hit with my kids), three swimming pools, enormous bi-level fitness centre and spa (a huge hit with me) and a full-sized sports court and purpose-built in-line skating track. And her mammoth scale means more of everything for passengers, especially families, with some great cruising concepts the Australian market hasn’t seen before including a 900-seat ice skating rink and most importantly for one small passenger, the “crackalackin’” Royal Caribbean DreamWorks Experience.
Raff and his baby sister Marlo loved their first Voyager experience so much we were a little nervous that it wouldn’t have the same impact a second time around. We needn’t have worried.
The fact we already knew the ropes meant our son had a good idea of what he wanted out of the next week as well as where to find it. So, immediately after boarding and a quick refuel on the delicious hamburgers at Johnny Rockets, the ship’s American-style diner, it was straight to Adventure Ocean to register Raff for Aquanauts, one of the five age-based programmes for kids aged three to 17. Having been before he couldn’t wait to dive in to the crafts and games and new friendships he’d make over the days to come.
But first there is some diving of a different kind to be done and we head to the pool so he can show off some of his newly acquired water skills to his suitably impressed mum. Only the promise of a visit to the Adventure Beach waterslide in the morning and a very special surprise after dinner can remove our frolicsome little fish from the water.
“Is it ice-cream?” he asks. Now, that would be telling!
Our a-la-carte dinner in the spectacular main dining room is a fabulous affair and both Raff and little Marlo are immediately smitten by both the food and our waiter, Ishmail, who as the week progresses become our little girl’s favourite friend. It becomes a nightly ritual for him to twirl her delightedly in a mock tango before sending her off with air kisses and hugs.
It must be said that just like the lovely Ishmail, the staff and crew on board Voyager are an absolute delight and they are all kinds of considerate to our kids.
The ship’s My Family Time dining program is a great addition for families. Kids can enjoy an expedited dinner before heading off with the Adventure Ocean counsellors for a little more fun while mum and dad enjoy coffee and dessert at leisure. This is a great concept, though we’re having so much fun with our kids that we don’t take advantage of it this time around.
“So, where’s my surprise?” demands Raff as we head to the Royal Promenade - a four-deck high main street within the ship - where his question is answered in spectacular style as the DreamWorks parade begins.
Both our kids faces light up as one by one their favourite film friends, assisted by a huge cast of entertainers, parade by in a dazzling display of colour and cartoon chaos. Kung Fu Panda, Shrek, Princess Fiona, plus the kooky cast of Madagascar - Alex the lion, Gloria the hippo, those whacky penguins and Raff's new “best friend in the whole world ever” the nutty King Julien.
“They’re really real!” exclaims an excited Raff who very nearly explodes when he sees his current favourite, Puss in Boots (even mummy has a crush on that sassy cat after this holiday) joins the parade. The half-hour spectacle would have been enough of a highlight to make the entire holiday a winner for the kids but there was more DreamWorks’ magic to come with daily meet and greets, kids club visits, DreamWorks movies (we’re lucky enough to catch the 3-D premiere of Madagascar 3 in the theatre), photo opportunities, funky poolside dance parties and even character breakfasts.
We, under the command of our little film buff, attend them all. Who are we to say no? After all, it’s not every day that you get to have breakfast with an ogre, cuddle a lion or stroll deck-side with a king.
The DreamWorks characters are engaging, endearing and entertaining in equal part and each has their movie doppelganger’s schtick perfectly down pat. Perhaps the nicest thing about them is that even on a ship full of kids each one has some special way of letting our son know they remember him personally each and every time they interact, making them seem even more real and making him feel very special indeed.
Marlo is particularly enamoured with Gloria the hippo but Raff will be dining out for years on stories about learning kung-fu moves from Po, taking on Puss in Boots with a balloon sword and the “kidnap” attempts by a naughty King Julien who – clearly recognising in our son a kindred lunatic spirit - tries repeatedly, in jest, to spirit him away!
The DreamWorks experience is an incredible addition to an already impressive itinerary of family fun. Well executed and subtle enough to not overwhelm or intrude on the holidays of older guests whilst keeping the kids happy and engaged for the duration – the balance is spot on.
One of Voyager’s stand-out features is its ice rink which hosts a world class ice show Ice Odyssey that Raff insists on seeing twice. There are also ice skating sessions for passengers. Though it’s been 20 years since his mother last strutted her stuff on skates, Raff convinces me to take him for a post dinner skating date. I’m pleasantly surprised that I manage to keep myself upright for the full 45 minute session though an impressed Raff, unaware of his mothers secret skating past, spends most of his time on his bottom, giggling. I’m convinced that the whole thing will end in tears but instead a happy Raff bounds back to tell his dad all about it, announcing, with impressive and flattering exaggeration, that “mummy is even better at skating than the sparkly girls in the show” and pleading to go again tomorrow. Bless!
While Raff certainly rules the roost for most of this holiday there is plenty for our 16 month old daughter too. Royal Babies and Tots is fantastic. A playgroup for parents with children age six months to three years, the programme offers a series of age-appropriate activity sessions where little cruisers can learn and explore through creative play, music and other tot friendly fun. Marlo loves the musical activities and baby gymnastics as well as interacting with other littlies of a similar age. She also loves the Fisher Price toy lending program that allows her to borrow and exchange baby toys to play with in the comfort of our stateroom.
This holiday is all about our kids but mum still manages to sneak in a massage at the spa and dad an evening foray to the sports bar to catch up on all the Euro 2012 action. But time alone together is a rarity so on our final night we take advantage of the ship’s babysitting service and enjoy a well earned kid free night out at Portofino, Voyager’s ambient fine dining restaurant. The bubbles and conversation flow, without interruption, as we enjoy a superb three course meal blessedly free of face wipes or the need to remind anyone to eat their vegies.
More than just a ship, our experience is that Voyager is a destination in itself, which is lucky because trying to drag our son away from all the fun onboard isn’t going to float. Usually Raff loves exploring new destinations as much as we do but it’s not going to be at the expense of time on “his” precious ship with all his new DreamWorks bff’s.
For more information on Voyager of the Seas Australasian season visit the Royal Caribbean website.
For Royal Caribbean Cruise deals until August 25, 2012 click here