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Rich & Jeri Bothroyd

Age: Agents

Occupation:Travel Agents

Number of Cruises: n/a

Cruise Line: Royal Caribbean

Ship: Voyager of the Seas

Sailing Date: May 16th, 2004r

Itinerary: Canada

had the opportunity to be on the May 16, 2004 sailing of Royal Caribbean’s Voyager of the Seas, sailing from Cape Liberty (don’t tell anyone it’s really Bayonne), New Jersey to St. John, New Brunswick and Halifax, Nova Scotia. These ports are both locations that neither Jeri nor I had previously been to, and we looked forward to seeing both of them.

The Cape Liberty Pier

Getting to the pier from LaGuardia Airport was an adventure. We located a taxi driver who was willing to try to find the pier, since this is a new cruise pier, and not many of the drivers had been there before. Fortunately, the directions that the taxi driver had in his book were correct….go across Manhattan, through the Holland Tunnel to the New Jersey Turnpike, and get off at Exit 14A. Directions to the pier are well marked once you get through the Holland Tunnel. The taxi fare is $84.50 to the pier including tolls, plus tips. We later found out that Royal Caribbean does offer transfers to the pier from LaGuardia for $39 per person, despite what they claim on their travel agent website.

Embarkation

The pier itself is a former military terminal. Nothing fancy, and a lot of former barracks buildings, but it works. There’s a lot of potential for this pier, and I’d expect that within the next few years, there will be more ships departing from there. We arrived at about 11:45 AM, pulling up directly in front of one of the buildings, where there are ample porters to take your baggage. Since we had pier pick-up of our documents, the porter checked the manifest for our cabin number, and applied luggage tags to the bags that we were checking. We then entered the terminal building, showed our passports and cruise confirmation, and went directly to the check-in desk. Since Royal Caribbean had printed 6 PM check-in on the documents, and were telling those who asked that you could check-in between 1 & 2 PM, there was no wait at all, with many of the pier agents standing around patiently waiting for guests to arrive. One thing with this cruise that is different than normal for this itinerary was that the ship came in from a travel agent cruise early that morning, so everything was running ahead of schedule. Normally, the ship will not be arriving until about noon for this itinerary. Our credit card was swiped (through the machine, not stolen), we signed paperwork, and went on to have our pictures taken for our SeaPass (so that they’d allow us on and off the ship), and of course, the obligatory boarding photo. We then went to wait for a bus to arrive (there are plenty of buses, and they run frequently) to shuttle us to the ship, since it’s about a quarter mile from the terminal to the ship. While on the bus, we were informed that they were allowing people to board, but that the cabins would not be ready until about 2 PM.

The Ship

In a word, “wow”! This cruise was our first on Royal Caribbean’s Voyager Class (Jeri sailed on a smaller Royal Caribbean ship many years ago, just don’t ask her which one…since she’s become a blonde, her mind’s just not the same…I think it’s the chemicals her hairdresser uses.) The Voyager Class ships, until the recent introduction of the Queen Mary 2, were the largest ships at sea. Not to be outdone, of course, Royal Caribbean will be introducing the Ultra Voyager Class ships in 2006, which will be large than the QM2.

The centerpiece of the ship is a large four-story atrium, based on deck 5 with stores, restaurants, and bars lining both sides of the main promenade, which serves as a Main Street, and a central gathering place on the ship, much like a small town square. Cabins overlook the promenade from the three decks above (make sure to keep your drapes closed if you don’t want people to be able to look in, especially those directly across from you). During the cruise, the entertainment features include late-night parades through the promenade. The crew members that take part in this look like they’re having a lot of fun, with elaborate costumes, and the parades, which last about 15 minutes, are quite entertaining.

Among the stores along the promenade are the usual…clothing, jewelry, cruise line paraphernalia, liquor, and cigarettes (the latter two items at great duty-free prices). The bars include the Pig & Whistle, where Jeri and I had the opportunity to watch the first night’s parade from. There are seats along the promenade (much like a sidewalk café), along with inside the bar. The service is fast and friendly, although when the bar is busy it does seem that the staff is overworked. They do, however, maintain a positive attitude, while the whole time hustling back and forth between the bar and the tables. The drinks seem to be larger than on most cruise lines, while at comparable prices. It doesn’t seem like there is a whole lot of alcohol in the mixed drinks, however. There are (at all of the bars on this ship) the usual daily specials, with plenty of opportunity to purchase souvenir glasses. Evening entertainment is provided by Pete Wickersham, who plays guitar and sings a lot of Jimmy Buffett and Jim Croce type music from the 70’s. He has a very good voice, and it is very enjoyable being able to sit at the Pig & Whistle, listen to good music, and people-watch. Even when the bar is closed, the Pig & Whistle is a popular place for people to sit and watch the goings on in the promenade.

Decks 7 and 8 contain a two-story library, complete with Internet Access for $.50 per minute. If you have your own laptop computer with you (as we did), unlimited access is available for $70 for a 5-day cruise, or $100 for a 7-day cruise. The connection speed is similar to a 56K dialup; not great, but it works.

Deck 11 features the main pool deck, which is broken into two areas. The first is the main pool, complete with bars and hot tubs. The other area is an adult only pool, also complete with hot tubs. Also on this deck is the Peek-a-Boo Bridge, where you have the opportunity to watch the activity on the bridge of the ship. Since bridge tours are no longer allowed, this is your best chance to see what goes on at the ship’s command center. There is also an explanation of what the different parts of the bridge are for.

Decks 13 and 14 feature the sports center for the ship, complete with a full-court basketball court, in-line skating track, a 30-foot rock-climbing wall (which, at the top, will put you about 200 feet above sea level), miniature golf course, and golf simulator. There is no additional charge for any of these activities, except for $25 per hour for the golf simulator.

Our Cabin

We boarded the ship, decided to stop by our cabin (#7242, a balcony cabin on deck 7, right near the forward elevators) to see if we could at least drop our bags, since it was only 12:30, and found out that our cabin was ready. We met our cabin steward, Wayne, from Jamaica. He is a very pleasant individual who always knew when we were not in our cabin (I swear there are hidden cameras in the cabins). Our cabin was always taken care of in a timely manner. The cabin is an adequately-sized cabin with capacity for three people. The third berth is a bunk, which is stored in the ceiling, rather than on the wall as is commonly seen. There is plenty of closet space with lots of hangers, but drawer space is a bit tight. It’s nicely designed, with plenty of desk space for those of us who have to work while we’re on vacation. The balcony is quite large, and has three chairs and a small table. The bathroom has a small shower with sliding doors rather than a curtain. There’s plenty of storage in the bathrooms for whatever you need to bring.

The Itinerary

After leaving Bayonne, oops, Cape Liberty, at about 10 PM Sunday night (of course, after the mandatory lifeboat drill, the highlight of all of Jeri’s cruises), we sailed for St. John, New Brunswick. Monday was a sea day, complete with all of the stores, pools, hot tubs, and casino being open, and horse racing (all right, it’s not the Kentucky Derby, the horses are on sticks). Since most of the day was foggy, cloudy, foggy, cool, and, did I mention foggy, the heated pools were not used most of the day, but the hot tubs were getting plenty of use. We attended an informative travel agent seminar in the morning for a couple of hours, ate lunch at Johnny Rocket’s made our reservations for Tuesday night at Portofino’s, and got tickets to Tuesday night’s ice show. Yes, that’s right, an ice show on a cruise ship, and not an ice carving demonstration either. There are four ice shows during this 5-night cruise, two on Tuesday night, and two on Thursday night. You must get tickets in advance, however. By Monday afternoon, the tickets were gone for Tuesday night’s performances.

Monday night was formal night. As usual, formal portraits were available, and the photographer made his rounds of the tables in the main dining room. The Captain’s Cocktail Party was also this evening, but we did not attend.

On Tuesday, we arrived a little over an hour late into St. John, probably due to the fog (yes, more fog) on Monday night. We were greeted by a lone bagpiper, and a 21-gun salute. The day started out clearer (which is all relative), but drizzle and rain took over on Tuesday afternoon. Jeri and I signed up for a bus tour to St. Martins, which is a quaint little fishing village about 30 miles from St. John. The tour itself first stopped at the St. John City Market, which features fresh meats and vegetables, along with local crafts and souvenirs. I am sure that the locals do a lot of their grocery shopping here. We continued on to the Reverse Falls, where the falls actually travel uphill from the bay to the river. Only 20 minutes per day, the river and falls are at the same level, and you do not have the opportunity to see this sensation. Of course, we were there during that 20 minute period, so we did not get a chance to see it. From the Reverse Falls, the tour continued to St. Martins. There is not much between St. John and St. Martins, as this is a very rural area, reminding us of New England. This reminder was not surprising, since the St. John area is less than 70 miles from the State of Maine.

Upon our arrival in St. Martins, we stopped at the Cave View Restaurant for lunch. This restaurant overlooks the famous sea caves. We were given the option of seafood chowder (complete with lobster, scallops, and haddock), pasta and bean soup, or chicken tenders and French fries. Since we are from New Hampshire, we had no choice but to go with the seafood chowder. It was excellent…a thick, creamy broth, and filled with seafood. This was served with homemade biscuits, beverage, and cookies for dessert. After lunch, since it was not low tide, we could not explore the sea caves, but we could walk along the rocky beach. They have what is locally known as wishing rocks, which are rocks with stripes on them. The locals tell you to take them. Personally, I think they just have so many rocks on the beach that they just want to get rid of them!

When we left the restaurant, we made another stop in the village of St. Martins. There is not a lot here – just a couple of touristy gift shops, but the views are beautiful (or at least they would be if the weather was nice). You can see across the Bay of Fundy over to Nova Scotia, and the village claims to be the only place in the world where you can take a picture which has two covered bridges in it. We did take the picture; whether it’s the only place in the world where you can do this remains to be seen.

Now, no bus tour to St. Martins would be complete without trying a moose call on the way back to St. John. Our tour guide, Jane (who, by the way, did a wonderful job), provided everyone on the bus an opportunity to try doing one. No, you don’t just call out “Here, Moosey, Moosey”. This moose call is done with a tin can and a wet cotton shoelace tied through a hole in the bottom the can. Simply slide your fingers along the shoelace, and the sound it makes is supposedly similar to the sound that a moose makes.

Our 5-hour tour was complete upon our arrival back at the cruise pier, where there is a small crafts market with local gifts and clothing. This is in a tent, but within the next couple of years, St. John is supposed to be building a $9-11 million facility at the pier.

Wednesday morning greeted us with more clouds and fog, which finally started to burn off as we got in to Halifax. Upon our arrival, we were greeted with a group of bagpipers and the town crier. These Canadian ports really roll out the red carpet for their cruise ship visitors.

Jeri and I had a leisurely breakfast at the Promenade Café, and met up with our scheduled 3½ hour excursion to Peggy’s Cove, a small fishing village about 30 miles from Halifax, and home of what is claimed to be the most photographed lighthouse in the world (which also has a working post office in it). Our tour, on a trolley-car type bus, got us to Peggy’s Cove in about an hour. Our guide, Jamie (a 21-year old college student), was very knowledgeable about the Halifax & Peggy’s Cove areas, and led us on a short walking tour of this scenic area. From there, we had an hour of free time to explore the village, stop at the gift shops, and take plenty of pictures. This village is very small, with only about 60 residents there. They will not allow any additional construction, and any renovations to the homes there must be approved by “the committee”. This is a very beautiful area, and is a must-see when visiting this area of Nova Scotia. On the return trip, we passed the Swiss Air Flight 111 Memorial, but were unable to stop, as the area is not set up to handle tour buses. Jamie provided a history of the Halifax area; we toured through the downtown area, and were returned to the pier.

The Halifax pier offers shopping for the “must have” souvenirs, t-shirts, etc. It is about a 10 or 15 minute walk to the downtown area.

Dining

There are several dining options on the Voyager of the Seas. Along with a three-story main dining room, there is Portofino’s, a $20 per person restaurant (which will be reviewed later on), the Café Promenade, featuring sandwiches, pizza, and pastries, the Windjammer Café (buffet style breakfast and lunch), the Island Grill, with hamburgers, hot dogs, etc. for lunch, and buffet style dinners, Johnny Rocket’s, a 50’s-style diner with booths and counter service, and offering excellent hamburgers, soda, and shakes, and room service.

On Sunday night, we left our room service order on the door for Monday’s breakfast. We ordered breakfast to be delivered between 7:30 and 8:00 AM, and at about 7:50, room service called us and told us that our order was on its way. Sure enough, about one minute later, our breakfast arrived…just as we had ordered.

The main dining room consists of three levels, on decks 3-5. Breakfast and lunch are open seating, and for dinner, we were assigned late seating with our waiter Lalit and his assistant Stacy. Both are very pleasant, and Lalit often had recommendations from the men. We were very pleased with the level of service that they provided.

The Windjammer Café is typical buffet fare. Good, but not great, which is typical of most cruise ship buffets that we have encountered.

Jeri & I had lunch on Monday, a sea day, at Johnny Rocket’s. Since they opened at 11:30 AM, we arrived at 11:35 to find that the people right in front of us had taken the last two seats. Everyone in the place had menus, so we knew right away that nobody would be leaving soon. We left, and returned just after 12:00. There was one person in front of us, and we were both taken in to the two empty booths. We were almost immediately served an order of onion rings and French fries, and our order was taken. While the fries were nothing to brag about (although they were edible), the onion rings were excellent. All burgers are cooked to order, just as long as you want them well-done. The burgers are excellent, and not at all dried out, and served quickly. We also ordered a bowl of their hearty chili, which was served with shredded cheese and chopped raw onion. Not too spicy, but very flavorful. While Royal Caribbean has started charging a $3.95 per person cover charge for Johnny Rocket’s on some of their ships, the Voyager is not one of them. The only charges here were for beverages, no matter what you ordered, except for water. While coffee and tea are available at no charge in the other restaurants on the ship, this is not the case at Johnny Rocket’s. While we were there, the staff danced to “YMCA”, and thoroughly looked like they were having fun doing it. As a side note, it’s nice to see that some of the cruise lines are offering the crew chances to have some fun while they are working, whether it is dancing to “YMCA”, being in the parade, or whatever. The crew works long, hard hours, and they need to have a chance to relax once in a while, even during the work day. Overall, Johnny Rocket’s was much like sitting in an old authentic diner, and nothing like a cruise ship restaurant.

On Tuesday night, we had the privilege of eating at Portofino, an Italian specialty restaurant which carries a $20 per person cover charge. This restaurant is on Deck 11 of the Voyager of the Seas, and offers an intimate ocean-view setting. The restaurant manager, Monika, immediately introduced herself to us, escorted us to our table and gave us our menus. Our waiter, Peter Brady, introduced himself and brought bread (we highly recommend the foccaccio) is served with a variety of dips…chopped tomato, artichoke, marinated mushroom, and oil and vinegar. Specialty water is available at a charge, as well as the free tap water that Jeri and I opted for. Since we wanted a cocktail, Peter got the bar waiter (Vijay) to come over and take our order, which was delivered promptly. Peter took our orders, after making several recommendations. The many courses were delivered in a relaxed fashion, with time between to relax and enjoy the ambiance. We opted to try the goat cheese soufflé and it was creamy and light. Another appetizer that we couldn’t pass up was the Tiger shrimp on a bed of saffron risotto which were cooked to perfection. The clam chowder had a very good flavor and we also tried a small portion of the spaghetti with chunks of lobster in a lobster sauce. Then on to the main course. After our main course (veal saltimbocca, complete with proscuitto, risotto, and vegetable), was complete, since Jeri and I had already decided that we wanted the tiramisu (and to share a flourless chocolate cake), Peter did not need to bring the dessert menus back. Peter brought the tiramisu, and since time was getting short to get into line for the ice show, we did not get our chocolate cake. The veal was thinly sliced and very tender. An excellent choice I might add. The tiramisu was to die for. It was made in a chocolate bowl and had a layer of raspberry. It was the best we have ever had. Upon our return to our cabin after the ice show, we were surprised with the chocolate cake being placed in our cabin, sent by Peter.
We found this to be above and beyond the call of duty and called Monica and Peter today to tell them so and thank Peter. All-in-all, Portofino makes for a special evening, with excellent food and service, well worth the $20 per person for a special dinner.

Entertainment

As I mentioned earlier, one of the entertainment options is an ice show. There are two shows on each of two evenings. We were told in order to see the show we needed to get tickets {free} ahead of time and to get there early as they fill up fast. We stood in line for half an hour the day before the scheduled show and felt fortunate to receive 2 tickets for the time we wanted. Getting in to the arena on the appointed night and time was, at best, chaos, and at worst, a complete disaster. The doors were not opened until 15 minutes before show time, with hundreds of people waiting outside for the doors to be opened. Not only was the crowd outside the doors and back to the dining room, but it was up the stairs to the next level. People were pressed together and some were feeling faint in the heat of bodies. Even when they did allow people in, they only opened one door (out of four), and did not even check to see if people had tickets. As a result, there were quite a few people who had tickets but could not get seats, since there obviously were people there who did not have tickets. They even announced when the two Thursday shows would be, and for people to check their tickets to make sure they were at the right show. Of course, not one person left at this point and many of them did not have tickets but were in seats. Even after an announcement for passengers not to block the aisles, there were many who were sitting on the stairs, tickets in hand, blocking the aisles. Needless to say, the passengers were quite upset with the way this was handled, and Royal Caribbean needs to come up with a better way. Perhaps they should assign seats on the tickets, so that when they finally do open the doors, passengers can go right to their seats. This would lessen the number of people who feel they must get in right when the doors open in order to get a good seat. At the very least, they must open the doors when they say they will, and check tickets at the door or there is no point in issuing tickets at all.

With all of the fiasco before the ice show, I must also say that the show itself is great. The performers are very talented, and have very impressive backgrounds. The costumes were colorful, and the performance was full of energy (oh, to be young again). We were very impressed in that even though the ship was rocking, the performers were able to put on their show without a hitch. We highly recommend that everyone see this show, in spite of the hassles getting in to see it.

While we did not get an opportunity to see many of the main entertainment shows, we did get to see the farewell show on Thursday night. This was also the first time that we had seen the cruise director, Richard Spacey, in action. Richard is quite entertaining, and interacts with the audience quite well. This show featured the duo Duality, who did some eloquent and amazing dance acrobatics. How this couple got into some of the positions they got into I will never know (or be able to do). There was also a comedian, Darrell Joyce. He was your typical cruise comedian, with all of the usual cruise observations – funny, but not great.

Disembarkation

On Friday morning, we needed to be out of our cabins by 8:00 AM. Passengers waited throughout all of the common areas and the hallways on the bottom couple of decks. The ship was cleared and disembarkation began at about 9:45 AM. Since we had purchased transfers to LaGuardia, we were in the first group, and were off the ship in about five minutes, and on to a bus to transfer back to the main terminal building. We gathered our luggage, cleared customs, and found our bus to LaGuardia. The bus did not leave until about 10:40 AM, since three passengers who had purchased transfers had not shown up. There were several passengers who were ready to get off the bus, as they had early flights that they were afraid that they would not make. Finally, the RCI person collecting the transfer vouchers apparently called the Miami office, and they said to go ahead and take off without the three. We arrived at LaGuardia at about 11:35, leaving plenty of time to make flights after 1:30 PM.

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