Voyager of the Seas, the newest and largest cruise ship in the world, has its mission firmly focussed on family vacations. The range of activities available for people of all ages is the widest I've ever seen, but the ship will especially appeal to sports-minded individuals. If you think cruising is a languid, boring vacation then this is a ship you ought to see.
SPORTS ACTIVITIES: There are numerous sporting options including rock climbing, ice skating, miniature golf and a virtual driving range, a two-goal basketball court, in-line skating and swimming. All this is in addition to a full-sized fitness center with aerobic classes and a complete assortment of treadmills, Stairmasters and free-weights.
Kids and teens will especially love this ship, possibly more than adults, and chances are they will discover the upper, aft end of the ship and adopt it as their home for the entire 7-day cruise. That is where you find the teen lounge with its own music system and CD collection, and separate areas for children of all ages including toddlers. School-aged kids can choose from a variety of games and diversions including a separate room dedicated to Lego building blocks, and there is also an entire room filled with nothing but Nintendo game players. As if that won't be enough for most kids, there is also a huge video arcade with most of the latest and greatest video games that alone would be enough to keep any kid busy for days.
Just outside the video arcade is a nine hole miniature golf course, an inline skating track approximately 100 feet long with hills and valleys and hairpin turns, and a water slide. Next to the miniature golf course is the video driving range where one can drive balls into a computer generated image of a golf course. The efforts can be measured for distance and accuracy. Forward from the golf area is a two-goal basketball court. The court is full sized, but the baskets appear to be somewhat lower than the regulation 10 feet. However, that fact didn't seem to phase any of the players who used the goal's diminished stature as an opportunity to show off their skills at dunking the ball.
Towering over the basketball course is the rock-climbing wall. The simulated cliff, similar to what one finds in the newer full-featured fitness centers, resides on the back side of the funnel which serves as a windbreak for the climbers. Trained instructors fit each climber with a harness and special shoes and gloves, and give a brief demonstration on technique. The climbers are connected to rope pulleys which prevent them from falling as they scale up the 30 foot wall. Indeed, we saw many climbers who instead of over-exerting themselves merely preferred to dangle in the air and enjoy the best view of the ocean available anywhere on the ship.
The fitness center has dozens of progressive resistance machines and aerobic equipment. It is situated on a top deck all the way forward offering a commanding view of the sea during one's workout. There is a large aerobics room and a Jacuzzi spa. The massage and personal care offerings are upstairs from the fitness center with the usual assortment of saunas, facials, back treatments, aromatherapy, hydrotherapy and hair care. There is also a solarium with pools and spas surrounded by Roman statues. Unlike the other Royal Caribbean ships, on Voyager the solarium is outdoors.
JOHNNY ROCKETS: In the center of it all this activity is Johnny Rockets, the same 50's era soda-fountain style hamburger franchise you can find throughout the United States. Johnny Rockets struck an agreement with Royal Caribbean to become the first restaurant franchise to ever stake its name on a cruise ship, and RCI went to great lengths to work with them to get all of the details and specifications the restaurant chain requires for its operation, right down to the spatulas. The result is a product as good as any Johnny Rockets you will find on shore. The restaurant has seats indoors and outside on the open deck with a spectacular view of the water, but it only holds about 100 patrons and the lines of people waiting to get in were long. Currently, there is no additional charge for the food (there is a charge for sodas and other drinks) and you can't make reservations, but those things could possibly change in the future. We suspect that the fries, shakes and freshly cooked hamburgers will make it very popular with the kids, especially since it is right in the middle of all the other activities they are sure to gravitate to.
ENTERTAINMENT: The entertainment on Voyager is at times spectacular. The entertainment staff is huge with dozens of singers, dancers, jugglers and more, and when you include the technical staff for all the lights and sound you realize the operation is huge. There is even a television crew that constantly video-tapes everything that happens.
The ice skating show, Ice Frolics, is probably our biggest surprise. I can't tell you how many times we chuckled at the idea, "Ice skating on ships?" before we actually saw it. We never thought it would work! Well, not only does it work, it works extremely well. The rink is open at various times throughout the day for the enjoyment of passengers who want to rent skates, and then at night they bring on the professional skaters for the performance of the "Ice Frolics" show. The theme of the show is a re-creation of an Olympic competition where skaters compete in different events; men's and women's singles and doubles. After each performance the skaters are interviewed by a hostess who asks how they felt about their performance while it plays back on the huge video projection screens behind the stage (and the various monitors around the room). After the interviews a panel of judges selected from the audience votes for the winner. The skaters were excellent and this was an obvious crowd pleaser. Okay, we were skeptical, and we were wrong.
The shows in the main showroom, the La Scala Theater, were also grand in scope and at times breath-taking. The talent of the performers is obvious and may be the best we have ever seen on a ship, but at times the content of the show seemed a little uninspired. The show we saw was yet another cruise ship "Salute to Broadway," and while the year 2000 rendition of West Side Story was a treat, we could have done without hearing the full version of "The Impossible Dream," from "Man of La Mancha." Once again, the special effects were inspired, including spectacular 3-D computer generated video projections to transition between the various segments of the show.
One thing we found to be a little annoying was the assemblage of street performers whose main job seems to be walking around the ship, especially in the Royal Promenade area, and annoying passengers. These people dress up like engineers, porters, nerds (with tape on the glasses and tissue dangling from a shoe), or security guards and walked around the crowd doing impromptu skits and goofing with the crowd. We pretended to be amused when four of us were all taped to a pole with masking tape, but it was really just kind of strange.
INTERNET CAFÉ: Well, it isn't actually a cafe, but there are many computers (16) with Internet access in the library. The computers have flat panel displays already set up with an Internet browser. You log in by sliding your key card through a card scanner and the time starts ticking. Rates for the Internet access are still being decided, but they will likely be in the range of $.50 per minute.
The Internet connection is surprisingly fast, but your choice of destination sites is limited to Yahoo, Ebay, AOL.com and a few more sites unless you happen to know the exact URL for any other site you want to visit. Voyager does NOT have AOL on the ship, but you can access your AOL email through the AOL.com website. You will not have access to your AOL email address list or your favorite places so be sure to write down all of the essential email addresses and URLs of your favorite sites before you go (hint: the URL for this site is , be sure to write that down).
Voyager has a great piece of software that allows you to send a "virtual postcard" right from the computer. A tiny video camera sits on top of the monitor ready to capture your picture. You snap a picture and the software allows you to attach a message to it and email it to whomever you choose. There were problems, however. We sent a pictures to friends of ours with AOL email addresses and though they received the pictures they just didn't work. AOL has problems with attachments that originate on the Internet and our friends received these pictures as MIME file attachments. Our best efforts to decode them were unsuccessful.
CruiseMates recommends that if you want to send pictures the best thing to do is for your friends to get an internet-based email account with someone like Hotmail or Yahoo. That way you can send email to them directly from the ship without having to go through AOL.
Also, if you have an email address that has an unusual a domain name (for instance, email@example.com) you will also find it easier to access your email from Voyager if you establish an email account with an Internet based email provider such as Yahoo Mail or Hotmail before you leave. Set up your regular email account to forward all of your email to that new account and that way you can be sure you to get your email on the ship while you are sailing.