Voyager of the Seas
15 Day Transatlantic - Barcelona - Galveston Texas
December 8 - 23 2007
By Tucker

BACKGROUND: In our mid-60's, 20 plus cruises including trans-Atlantic on NCL's Dream in April 2007. This time I carried a sheet of paper around with me and made notes. People knew I had "the list" would also tell me things to add. So, get a Snickers because this will be a long one. Also need to mention that we just completed a cruise on RCI's Freedom of the Sea six-weeks before which was probably the best cruise we have ever taken. It was hard not to "compare" them when, in reality, I am comparing "apples to oranges." 

The Good:  

Convenience: Docks in Galveston 20 miles from our house 

Cost: Very inexpensive because it was trans-Atlantic which is always a "bargain." We have a terrific TA who willingly went after price reductions for us, a $250 cabin credit for owning stock, and $100 per cabin reduction for booking prior to June 30, 2006. We had half a roundtrip frequent flyer ticket left over from our trans-Atlantic in April that got us to London. In London, we got a one-way ticket to Barcelona for the magnificent sum of $10 (plus $55 in taxes). 

Cabin: Inside on Deck 7. It has been a long time since I have been in an inside. We usually book balconies. However, balconies were more than twice the initial booking price, and I questioned whether we would enjoy it much on the Atlantic in December. An ocean view was around $800 more and I didn't think a window was worth $800. I could send husband up to give me a weather report (lol). However, I did not feel claustrophobic (as insides have less square footage than balcony cabins) at all with my "mole hole, coat closet, prison cell" as I variously referred to it pre-cruise. It was well appointed, plenty of storage and closet space. Announcement button didn't work but we didn't care-we just opened the door to listen if we thought we needed to. While dark, there was enough light coming in under the passageway door to "light the way" to the front of the cabin and you can always leave the light on in the bathroom with the door slightly ajar to provide more light. There was a reflector circle opposite the main light switch near the cabin door to help you find that in the dark. 

I heard the portholes on some of the outside cabins on deck 2&3 "whistled" sometimes but not enough to be a major disturbance. I also heard the inside cabins facing the Promenade were very sound proof except once during a midnight parade there was some noise. Be aware, though, that not all of them have a view of the Promenade activities-those on the ends. There are no "balconies" over the promenade which some people thought there would be. 

We had our beds (very comfortable) made up together and the end of it touched the cabinets on one side and the sofa on the other side making it awkward to get in and out unless you crawled up the middle. If having your bed together is not important, I would suggest separating them for easy access. We had a safe which at times was "balky" but, again, it didn't bother us enough to call it in-we just worked with it. It worked with a numerical code rather than a "credit card." 

There were two 110V outlets which were sufficient for us, but if you have a lot of chargers or whatever, you might want to bring a power strip. Lighting was excellent with bedside lights that had a directed "pin" light for those that like to read while the other sleeps, as well as lighting around the vanity, overhead, and in the bathroom. There was also a curtain you could pull between the bed and the sofa if any light disturbs your partner while you read. 

Cabin Steward(ess) Excellent. She kept my thermo cooler full of ice, greeted me every time and even dropped what she was doing to run down the hall to open my cabin when she saw me coming. I've had stewards lean against the wall opposite of me and watch me fumble for five minutes trying to find my card. The cabin was immaculate. 

Cruise Director: Excellent. Very high visibility around the ship and approachable. Bad news is she (Karen Maybury) is leaving in early January. Hope Leo, who is coming on, is as good. 

Crew: Good-friendly and accommodating. Only ran into a couple who were having a bad hair day. Captain: Excellent and also very visible around the ship and approachable. The best we have had. Good "Chinese Friend" joke very day at the noon announcement. He had a Q&A session and entertained at a couple of the shows singing and playing a guitar. He spoke excellent English. 

Cleanliness: Crew members all over with spray bottles cleaning all the time. Servers quick at picking up used glasses, emptying ashtrays, etc. Trivia: Many games scheduled but "prizes" were not great. Most days it was water wallets or plastic key chains. The best ones were photo albums and pens but they only came out the last couple of days. We figured they were dumping the water wallets because they had a new model in the shops. Even though we were perennially one answer away from winning a lot of times, our trivia team was great-us, our friends from Nebraska, a man who turned out lives five miles from us in Clear Lake and another gentleman from Sherman, Texas. We had a lot of fun and passed on water wallets to those that wanted them for their grandchildren (lol). Even if you don't like trivia, If "Irky" from Turkey is conducting it, go for some great entertainment. And, if you do participate, look for an off the wall question from him like "Where was the first doughnut made?" In Greece. 

Promenade Café: Open 24 hours with nice variety of snacks and pizza. 

Gym: Told it was a good one-didn't go to it personally 

Maitre'd: Actually Section Captain. Spent several minutes with us each evening and did not appear to be "trolling for tips" but genuinely interested in us.

Bathroom: Clean, hot water almost instantly, never ran out. Bar soap was provided as was shampoo in a dispenser in the shower. Suggestion: bring soap on a rope because if you drop the bar, you won't be able to pick it up (lol). No bath gel or conditioner, though. Also, no amenities like body lotion, sewing kit, etc. One side of the mirror had storage space which was sufficient for toiletries and a shelf under the sink for a few things like my hot rollers. A hair dryer was in the cabin in a dresser drawer. 

Entertainment in the evenings: Plentiful. Lots of lounges, bars, etc. with live music for listening and/or dancing. 

Cruise Critic Party: Great spread of food. Lots of good "door prizes". Good attendance by crew members who answered questions. 

Perks for repeating passengers. A coupon book, a tote, repeaters party, postcards, Platinum level and above had a special ice show performance with drinks beforehand. There were bathrobes provided for Platinum level and higher. Lack of chair hogs on both the pool deck and in the show room. Weather might have fed into pool area, though. There were several Jacuzzi's and I saw a sign on one (could be more) that said "adults only." I didn't see any kids in the Solarium which is adults only and a "quiet zone." 

Compass: Had a "tear off" section you could carry around with you rather than the whole thing. Extra copies available by the Purser's desk and in the Windjammer (early, they run out). Was surprised, though, that there was not an emergency contact listed when in port. 

Ice Show: Don't miss it. Best entertainment on the ship. Get there early and get an "end zone" seat so the show will be "facing" you rather than on the long sides. Beverage Servers: After declining to order a drink, they would put a napkin upside down on the table as a signal to other servers not to bother you. 

Average  

Embarkation: They moved it along. We probably arrived at the ship at its most popular time so the lines appeared long but, overall, it was good. Our check-in person was not a happy camper and it showed.

Food: Not great but not bad. Windjammer had nice variety. I particularly enjoyed the soups. There was an "Express breakfast" buffet in the formal dining rooms for those that wanted "white table cloth experience" or wanted to be with someone ordering from the menu. It had a nice spread of food much like the Windjammer. Pancakes were not good, though. They were undercooked. French toast was not that much better. Bacon was hit and miss. Even if ordered "crispy", it sometimes came going "oink oink." I would go to the buffet where I could "pick and choose" rather than take a chance ordering it after placing my order with the waiter. It was the same menu every day except a change in omelets. The only crackers they had on board were saltines. Saltines don't get it with brie that comes on the cheese plate (lol). On lobster night (the last formal night and lobster tails were the best I have had on a ship in years) they had a "surf and turf" with a tail and a filet. Our waiter brought a plate of extra tails our for us. I guess he figured we weren't double ordering for the broccoli. 

Elevators: Sometimes slow in coming and were often filled especially around dinner times and after the main show. Sometimes one would be out of order. But, keep in mind there were a lot of people in scooters and walkers, which take up more room and, therefore, fill them up quicker. When coming back from shore, we would go to the "back side" of the bank of elevators and avoid the masses waiting. If push comes to shove, walk up a couple of decks and cross over to the opposite side elevators. 

Casino: Many slot machines including penny ones-mostly 25 cents. Not too many dollar ones (and the Wheel of Fortune at the entrance is verrrrrrry cold) and three or so $5 ones. They all were tight. By the end of the cruise, seats at the five or six penny slots were hot commodities (lol). Our group slot pull put in around $450, $3 at a time, one time through and came out with 80 percent which is low in comparison to other slot pulls we have done. Surprisingly, there were four roulette tables-mostly standing empty, so they may pull them. One craps table. I heard that it would be pulled when it returned to Europe in the spring as Europeans don't play craps over there. I didn't see it utilized much even on this cruise. There were three or four blackjack tables, three or four other card tables. I heard the usual complaints about smoke. Restrooms are discretely "tucked" in the corner and most people don't know they are there, so they are under utilized. Scout them out. Activities during the day: The usual. Some people said they were bored but I saw plenty of things listed in the Compass to do. We are trivia players and they had two or three games a day. They had bridge lectures and sanctioned bridge games when at sea. 

Needs Improvement  

Dining room: Our service was very slow-two hour dinners almost every night and we were not the only ones. However, I heard others had good service so it is the luck of the draw. We tried pre-ordering the night before but it didn't help much. Orders were filled correctly, though. I blame the kitchen for being slow getting orders out to our server, rather than the servers. They were hustling. They need to tighten up on seating late comers. At a nearby table, a family of four came in routinely 45 minutes to 1 ¼ hours late and were seated. The Section Captain would fill in serving them so as to not screw up the regular server who was trying to keep things moving along but she still had work to do for them. What happened to shut the door after 20 minutes and the Windjammer is open? On the formal nights, I noticed more tuxedos than usual. Probably about 20 percent-but keep in mind, you are dealing with an older crowd on trans-Atlantic. I'd estimate that 65 percent of the men had coat and ties/suits and probably 5-10 percent in other attire, ranging from golf shirts and khakis to "you don't want to know" (just a few). 

Shows: My first thought was that I was spoiled by the fabulous shows on the Freedom. However, others agreed with us that the production shows were "flat." As one person put it, "I've seen high school musicals that were better." Individual entertainers not that good either. No problem getting seats. The lighting man's foot hanging down over the balcony and keeping time with the music didn't help (lol). As an aside note, if you cruise on the Freedom, go to all the shows even if you think you aren't interested in them because the visuals and technical end are eye-popping. In fact, some of the individual entertainers could almost be called a production show because the dancers and singers participate in them along with the staging. 

Maintenance of ship: Public areas were o. k. but carpets need to be replaced in the cabin passageway areas and the furniture in cabins needed to be reupholstered. My sofa looked so sorry, I don't think the Salvation Army would have taken it. 

Restrooms: There were times when some of the facilities were out of order. Also, times when they needed "attention." Only a one-holer outside the show room and it was for handicapped with buttons to push to open and shut things. I never could figure out how to close the door to the stall. 

Library: Very poor. Bring your own reading material. Seriously lacking books. They have a daily trivia and suduko sheets. There was a daily news "recap" down in the internet room but not every day. 

No ice tea/lemonade available before 11:30 a. m. (lunch) or after 9:00 p. m. in the Windjammer. Not available anywhere else including the Promenade Café. I solved this with a water bottle and tea bags in my cabin. 

Refrigerator in cabin: Husband called it "shade" rather than ice box. My white wine was "tepid." 

Ice buckets: Very small, held enough for one or two glasses and was melted by noon. Bring a thermo six-pack cooler and tip your room steward extra to keep it filled. 

Future cruise bookings: Make your appointment early because slots are very limited. No way can they take care of everyone that would like to book a future cruise to get cabin credits. Brochures were hard to come by, you needed to be there when they put them out as they didn't last long. They have a promotion where you can put out a deposit of $100 for an open future booking that will yield cabin credits when you book. The advance deposit would be credited towards your cruise booking deposit when you book. I had gotten the "word" that only one in a couple need to sign up for it as the cabin credit is per cabin, not per person, so two people who signed up would not get double credit when booking the same cabin. They said I could sign up in my name and not have to list another person who would book with me. To avail yourself of that, you do not need an appointment, just go by the desk and pick up a form and turn it in. The charge can be added to your Sea Pass if you want. 

Room Service: Not timely on occasion and orders not correct was a report I got. Did not use it personally but heard it was from others. Shops: I did not find them very inspiring. Seemed to be the "same ole, same ole" as found on other ships. I did get a t-shirt (with a pocket) for my husband about halfway through the cruise when they put them on a table out in the Promenade at half price--$13-which to me is a reasonable price for a t-shirt. In the fine jewelry store, almost everything was 40% off regular price. But as husband says, "40% off what?" I didn't see any bargains there. 

Fewer announcements of bingo, art auction, etc. Not a whole lot, but enough to annoy you at various times because they were really loud in the public areas. 

Odds and Ends  

I was worried about the lack of sanitation stations around the ship in general and the dining areas in particular. Like none. When we asked the Captain about it he said that the best way to avoid the "virus" was frequent hand-washing. He said that the gels/wipes only lasted about one minute and people would use those in place of hand -washing. Whether this is true or not, I don't know. I will say, to my knowledge, no one came down with the virus. However, when visiting "Ladies", I saw a lot of people either not washing their hands at all or giving them a lick and a promise. At one of our port stops, they did hand out sani-wipes as we reboarded the ship. When the Captain was asked about it, he said it was because another ship in port (I think it was a Celebrity) did have an outbreak of it and they didn't want us bringing it on by having contact with something they touched while on shore so they wanted to eliminate those germs immediately. I know at another port stop that we shared with Princess, I heard they had 36 cases of it but no sani-wipes were passed out there. Needless to say, I washed my hands at every opportunity, I had a product called "Invisible Armor" which is like a hand cream (which I needed with all the hand washing), is waterproof, and is supposed to last for four hours. I also had a container of Germ-X gel which I put on my hands before entering the buffet and again before eating. Another "curiosity" thing we noticed was to get into the "Vault" (a late night club) from the Promenade deck, you had to press your hand into a hand print section on the wall in order to open the door. Talk about an opportunity to spread a virus. Alternatively, you could get into the Vault without having to touch the hand print section by going down to Deck 4, where there was an open door. 

Sick Bay: There were a lot of people on the ship with serious colds. Serious enough they went to sick bay. I didn't hear of one getting out for less than $200 on their Sea Pass card. If you have medical insurance, it is up to you to deal with reimbursement when you get home - they want to be paid then. I will say that everyone that did use the medical facilities said it was a professional clinic and they were satisified with the treatment they were given. I started a regimen of Cold-FX before I left home. I had Zicam with me if anything started to manifest itself. I had cold tablets (expensive and ran out quickly on the ship), cough medicine, cough drops. I did not get sick. Husband, who didn't do anything preventive, got a cold a couple of days after we got home. 

Smoking: I am a smoker. I found the smoking policy on the ship to be very liberal which surprised me. When I say "liberal", I mean more areas in the various venues set aside for smokers than I remember on other ships. On the other hand, on "warm-weather" cruises, I only smoke outside in designated areas with my Altoids tin for an ash tray as far away from non-smoking people/doors as I can get. I don't know why the ships put a "community" ashtray right outside the door on the deck where people are bound to gather and puff away irritating those who just want to go out on the deck. Smokers wouldn't mind going to a more "secluded" place-at least I wouldn't. No smoking in the dining rooms, main show room (but allowed in the smaller show room). The only reference to smoking policy was made during the muster drill and said smoking allowable on the port side of the open decks. Nothing was in the Compass addressing it. On the port side of the pool deck there was an area that had smoking. Why they started it right outside the door instead of the "middle" of the deck, I don't know. I found ashtrays on the starboard side of the ship on Deck 4. One of the most popular bars was the Aquarium bar which "straddled" the Centrium stairs. On the "smoking side" again, starboard, they had several tables with the non-smoking symbol but with ash trays sitting there. Other bars had non-smoking areas but I don't think they were separated by much. The casino had a non-smoking table but that is worthless when it is next to a smoking one. I also noticed some non-smoking slot machines but, again, don't think they would help much. However, I think they may tighten up on the policy now they are out of Europe. The Captain said effective the first of January there would be no smoking in the cabins, but smoking would be allowed on the cabin balconies. I never smoke in the cabin anyway as a courtesy to my non-smoking husband as well as whoever has the cabin the next week, but I smelled plenty of smoke coming out of cabins in the passageways. I think this is a very reasonable policy. A lot of people want the ban extended to the balcony, also, and I think this is under consideration. For you smokers who want to buy cigarettes, if you smoke non-menthol, 100's, get them as soon as you get on the ship as they carry very few of them. I actually bought the only two cartons before the ship left port. They had to hold them until we were out to sea (but did offer to open one carton and give me a pack). Later during the week, I noticed another carton in the window on display and traded one of the "regular" length ones for that one. 

Pool towels: There were no pool towels in the cabin unlike other cruises which didn't surprise me as there was no "beach" time before we got to San Juan. They had a pool attendant at the pool who "signed" them out for pool use. I asked him if towels would be put in the cabin prior to Labadee and he said they would not be, we would have to check them out from him. So I asked my cabin stewardess if she could get them for us telling her I didn't need them until Labadee as we weren't getting off the ship in San Juan. She said she would try but wasn't sure she could. She delivered them a day or two later, the day before we got to San Juan. In the meantime, I checked out two at the pool as I envisioned long lines when others discovered this. I was a little distressed he did not ask for my Sea Pass card but took my word for the cabin I was in. Another reason to check your on-board account frequently (can be done on the television) in case the wrong cabin number gets written down from people checking them out. 

Disembarkation: I wasn't sure whether to put this under "needs improvement" or not because I'm not sure it is RCI's fault. In a word, it was a "zoo." As locals we drew the second of the last group to get off. Our "color" was not called until 12:15 p. m. This is not to say we couldn't have jumped the line earlier since they weren't checking colors (or weren't when we went through). It is not to say others didn't "sneak" which caused the late call. At any rate, once released, we still had to collect our luggage and wait in line to clear customs. There were seven or eight lines open. Carnival was also disembarking so they needed agents over there for their passengers and there are only so many available in Galveston to do this. Keep in mind there were probably more "foreigners" on this ship than will be in the future. We got behind a "foreigner" and it was a good five to ten minutes before they were cleared. We were "waved" through. By the time we cleared, traffic was a gridlock with people coming and going. I saw one vehicle blocking a lane for 20 minutes loading their stuff in a mini-van and then securing excess on the top of the van. Another vehicle blocked a lane for 10 minutes because their ride had brought their three large dogs with them to "welcome" back their owners who took their good time in appreciation. My son had to make two passes because he wasn't in the right lane to get to our terminal. You have to pass through Carnival's terminal lane (and their traffic) to get to RCI's and he thought there would be a "direct" one to RCI's terminal bypassing Carnival's. The second time he wasn't in the right lane to continue on to RCI's and was directed back to Harbor Drive. The best way to do it for embarking passengers (and pick-ups) is to avoid Harbor Drive, go down Broadway to the Strand and continue past the ships and then turn back towards the ships on Harbor so you can make a right hand turn into the terminal. Even people who toted their own luggage off with "express" did not get out of the terminal until 9:00 a. m. or later even though they said embarkation for them would be at 7:30 a. m. I heard today that the ship didn't leave until 6:00 p. m. because of the delay getting us (and Carnival) off. I can't confirm that, though. 

Another note: Platinum and above have a "private" lounge (the Magic Flute dining room) to wait. They had coffee, tea, and Danish and plenty of room. They were not checking to see if you were eligible (when we went there around 9:00 a. m.) for this perk. It is worth a try rather than sitting wherever you could find a seat with the "masses" since you have to vacate your cabin by 8:00 a. m. 

To me, it would be suicidal to book a return flight before 1:00 p. m. Make sure you have your transportation lined up to the airport on your return. There is no "waving" for a cab-they aren't there, period. Cab fare to the big airport is $135, to Hobby $90. I can't tell you how to make sure there will be one for you on the return unless you snag one bringing in an incoming passenger which probably wouldn't happen before 11:00 a. m. You can get one from the airport to the terminal since they are lined up there along with shuttle services that will make stops at various hotels on the way so it won't be "direct." Maybe you could make a deal with a cabbie to have him pick you up on the return but how to give him a clue when to be there would be a crap shoot. I am sure they are wise to the traffic situation and won't want to tie themselves up for a lengthy amount of time waiting on you. The ship has a four hour tour that will take you to the airport for $46 a person. However, it is "drive by" no stops of "tourist" attractions. The straight drive is around 1 ¼ to 1 ½ hours. They have a shuttle service but don't know the price. I keep telling husband for $25 a head I can take four, maybe five, and luggage to the airport and make some money. Offer my hide-a-bed, guided tour-NASA and the Kemah Boardwalk-- and breakfast for another $25 a head. He keeps saying "liability" and "commercial driver's license." Oh well. That's the problem with Houston/Galveston departures for fly-ins. Getting to the dock and back without adding a significant amount of money to the cruise price. 

Ports: I won't go into ports much since this was a "one-time" itinerary-at least until it goes back to Barcelona in the spring. We usually avoid ship's excursions if at all possible by booking an independent tour either beforehand with recommendations or with a taxi port side. In Cartagena they had free shuttle service into town which was nice. We walked around, took the two euro round trip lift to the "castle" (however, to tour the castle was an additional fee of 2.50 euro pp) and enjoyed the scenic view. They had a double decker bus running tours but by the time we got there was a long line to get on it so we passed. Easy town to walk around. One of the cruise critic members set us up with a tour in Madeira with Strawberry World which was excellent-better and cheaper than the ship's tour. It was 25 euros each plus another 25 euros per couple for the toboggan ride. We did that and it wasn't scary at all, a highlight. I don't think if the ride is included in the ship's tour price as the brochure says you "can" take the ride but if you don't want to, you can ride the bus to the bottom where they will pick up those that do opt for it. The botanical garden there was wonderful and included birds. In La Palma, the taxis wanted 100 euros for up to four people. However, none spoke English other than "un poco." At least they were honest about it. I didn't have to ask them how much snow they had last year to find out their fluency. While we had a good tour-appears to cover more than the various ship's tours--I know we missed some by not being able to have a running narrative. I think, though, that we "saw" more on the tour than the ship's tour offered. If you have a Spanish speaking person in your party, I would go that route for sure. As my husband said, when you are dependent on his high school Spanish, you are in trouble. In San Juan, the ship was docked at the Pan American facility which is out of town. While the Compass said taxis were $10 each way, I heard it was $5 a person rather than $10 for a cab. Having been there numerous times, we didn't get off the ship other than stretch our legs. There is absolutely nothing there at the P-A dock other than a very small duty-free store which I suspect is "owned" by RCI as it was in the empty terminal building where they process San Juan departures.

Pre-cruise: As mentioned before, we flew to Barcelona via Gatwick which worked out well. We had a six hour layover at Gatwick but hooked up with our Nebraska friends fso the time passed fast. On British Air el cheapo fare, you are limited to one checked bag of 23 kilos max (scale handy to weigh in on before checking) and one carry-on. A carry-on is defined as a suitcase, purse, lap-top, etc. so you have to stuff everything into your one carry-on bag. Also, your entire carry-on must fit into the "box." Ours was within the allowable measurements according to BA's web site but the feet that hold the suitcase upright made it "longer" so it wouldn't fit into the "box." Bad news is we ended up having to check them when they flunked the "box" test. Good news is that they did not charge us which, according to their web page, could have been 60 English pounds per bag. 

In Barcelona, we stayed at the Ayre Hotel Gran Via Barcelona which I booked through easybook. com. I had never used them before, relied entirely on a downloaded Barcelona map to see if it was "convenient" and positive reviews that were on the site. It turned out to be a great selection. It was the first bus stop from the airport on a bus equipped for handling luggage and 3.9 euros per person vs. 25 euros up for a cab. Even not speaking the language was not a problem. The only "downside" was you have to heft your own luggage on and off the bus. It stopped at la Plaza Espanya and the hotel was a block away. There was a metro stop and the hop-on-hop-off stop at the plaza. While the hotel is not the Four Seasons, it was very clean, a safe in the bedroom, four free bottles of water a day in the refrigerator, no bathtub but a shower about the size of a bathroom on a ship and very friendly, helpful English speaking employees. The neighborhood appeared to be about as safe as you are going to get. For $92 (that's dollars, not euros) a night, we had a bargain and would stay there again if we ever go back. They had a restaurant but with breakfast 14 euros each, we opted for Burger King (good times were coming for food) at Las Ramblas which was on the hop-on, hop-off bus route. There was also a bar in the hotel and an ATM close by. Our taxi fare to port was 18 euros including tip and luggage charge. 

Overall, the cruise was wonderful. I don't want this review to be interpreted as "negative" but more as a "heads up" for those planning on cruising the VOS in the future. I'd do it again in a minute and we are considering doing the "flip" back to Barcelona in the Spring if we can find decently priced air and, maybe, something once in Spain to hook up with post-cruise. 

If you have any questions, feel free to e-mail me at whitlock at alumni.utexas.net. I'll be happy to answer you.