Last month I travelled to Singapore as a guest of Royal Caribbean to lose my cruising virginity aboard the company’s billion dollar ship ‘Quantum of the Seas’. There’s a good chance you’re sitting there reading this, questioning the suitability of ‘cruising’ for the TVG audience, because I certainly was before my experience. There’s no arguing that cruising is an industry shrouded in stereotypes, the main being the age of your typical cruiser, but Royal Caribbean are determined to change that. I joined a handful of bloggers and journalists for a three day roundtrip from Singapore to Kuala Lumpur for an alcohol fuelled introduction that completely changed my perspective on cruising.
The Royal Caribbean experience kicks off a few days before the trip actually begins as each guest is required to create an onboard profile which is linked to the check in process, room and also your SeaPass Card. The SeaPass card is your most precious possession onboard the ship, your key to every drink, every meal, any on board purchases and also your room. I found the check in process a tad clunky as a first timer, there’s a lot of information required for your SeaPass account, customs, security and so on. And you are required to create your profile no later than 48 hours before you board and turn up with a printed SetSail Pass which I still find fascinating this day in age. I later found out this is where experienced cruisers book dinners at the more exclusive restaurants onboard, definitely an important thing to note. Once you’re onboard the SeaPass account system is excellent, linked to your in room TV and also a mobile app that allows you to book onboard activities, chat to other guests with the app, track luggage, look at entertainment schedules and monitor your spending.
Stepping onto the ship for the first time is mind blowing. I couldn’t believe the size, the facilities or the amount of people buzzing about. I headed past groups eagerly booking onshore excursions and others testing out the Bionic Bar and up to my room on the 6th Floor. My balcony room was far better than I’d expected, one of 2090 rooms and the perfect size for one or two people. The rooms are designed to maximise as much space as possible and feature plenty of storage space, a small desk and small bathroom with quite an adequate shower. The balcony is sensational, albeit slightly under used in such tropical climates (lovely for a late night drink when the breeze is blowing).
Once settled in all guests aboard are required to attend a safety demonstration in groups determined by room location. Here is where you are reminded to wash your hands (everywhere) via a catchy cartoon song that sticks in your head for all three days. Once you’re done with the formalities you’re free to start exploring, or drinking as most people do, and at 348m long and 41m wide there’s a lot to take in.
We kicked things off at the infamous Schooner Bar which is also the ship’s piano bar, armed with our US$55 a day drinks package which allows you to drink almost anything on board except specialty cocktails at one of the pool bars (which is where they serve delicious Pina Coladas made with freshly blended pineapple). I was instantly impressed with the alcohol selection, watching the bar tender make my first cocktail with Ron Zacapa and later using Ketel One and Tanqueray for even the most basic drinks.
At Michael’s Pub guests can select from an equally impressive menu of craft beers or watch two robots shake cocktails at the Bionic Bar. Throughout the ship’s venues I found the wine lists heavily focused on Californian producers however there’s plenty of interesting wines to choose from, especially at Vintages wine bar with around 30 by the glass. The value for money is unbelievable considering what we pay for drinks in Australia. As you could imagine, it’s also very dangerous wielding a never ending drinks card.
Over the three days I must have eaten at 12 out of the 18 eateries on board, be it meals, trying small bites or snacking. If you were so inclined to, you could easily spend the whole time eating, even at 5am post a singalong at the Piano Bar. The dining situation however is not as straightforward as the drinks for a number of reasons. Firstly you need to book in at the most popular restaurants and that must be done prior to getting on board to save missing out. Secondly, some are included in your daily rate while other speciality restaurants are not.
On the first evening we ate at Jamie’s Italian (additional costs), his first restaurant on the sea. The share plates were excellent but surprisingly the Carbonara was off the mark. The following evening we ate at American Icon Grill (included) and then on the last night at the ship’s most popular restaurant Wonderland (additional costs), a Heston Blumenthal multi-sensory style experience by Cornelius Gallagher. I also sampled food from a handful of smaller outlets throughout the days, a delightful sandwich from Coastal Kitchen, amazing cookies from Windjammer Marketplace buffet and a few late night slices from Sorrento’s Pizzeria. From my experience the restaurants bearing additional costs were far superior to the included restaurants but I was surprised by the quality of the food throughout the ship and the service that came with it. The wait staff were always courteous, even in the more casual dining venues.
Outside of food and drink there’s endless activities to partake in on the boat as well as off it. When the ship is in port Royal Caribbean offer a handful of Shore Excursions for guests to explore the destinations. We sailed throughout our first night and when I woke we were docked at Malaysia, it was also 1pm and I’d missed my excursion that left at 10.30am. As I said earlier, the drink card plus thriving board casino and new friends equals danger.
I spent some time relaxing by the adults only pool, browsing some fine timepieces, observing humorous falls on the Flow Rider, practising my free throws at the basketball court and even snuck in a late gym session. Once the group had returned from their excursions we got to experience the ‘North Star’ a glass viewing pod that rises 300ft above the sea providing spectacular views of the ship below. On Sunday I got the opportunity to climb into the skydiving simulator which, while exhilarating, confirmed that I won’t be diving out of a plane any time soon. In the evening following dinner there is live music and entertainment as well as spectacular full-scale productions in the ship’s state of the art Two70 venue.
24 hours into my trip on Quantum of the Seas I found myself on Whatsapp texting my friends saying ‘we should actually get a group together and do a cruise in 2016 when the next ship arrives in Australia’. I’m convinced that it would be an absolute hoot, and probably work out cheaper than a weekend in Sydney anyway. Even as a couple I think the food and drink offering alone is enough to entice people to try cruising, add the opportunity to experience the destinations and I think you’d be hard pressed to find a better value break anywhere.
I’ll finish by saying how pleasantly surprised I was with my first cruising experience, despite setting the bar at the absolute onboard the world’s newest and most advanced cruise ship. I won’t lie, I was sceptical about saying yes to this opportunity but I’m stoked I did. I had a lot of fun and I’ve had just as much fun telling people about it since returning. I think it’s a holiday a lot of people second guess, especially due to the cruising stereotypes there’s a reason it’s a $40 billion a year industry. A fulfilling life relies on experiencing new things. As the old adage goes, don’t knock it until you’ve tried it.
For more info about the ship and it’s whereabouts head to the Royal Caribbean website.