Wednesday, 5 November 2014

A Weekend Onboard Quantum of the Seas - Cruise Review!

After an awesome weekend on board the world’s first smart ship, Quantum of the Seas, we thought it would only be fair to share our experience and thoughts!

Let’s start with all things ‘smart’…

Smart Check-in
As we arrived at the terminal we were promptly greeted by a member of staff who labelled and took our suitcases away to be delivered to our stateroom. Upon entering the terminal building we were directed towards one of several members of staff equipped with a tablet each, our passports were scanned, (which brought up our details and photograph that we had previously registered through online check-in) our boarding pass was stamped (which we previously printed after online check-in) and we were able to proceed straight through to security & then into the waiting lounge and shortly after onto the ship! As promised, there were no lines to wait in, no forms to fill out and nor was there a check-in counter. This new procedure also meant that you would embark the ship using your printed boarding pass and your room key/SetSail pass is found outside of your stateroom in an envelope - different to past cruises whereby you are handed your SetSail pass at the terminal during check-in – but it worked & saved time.

Sidewalk to ship in 10 minutes? Yes, if you have completed your online check-in correctly & everything is running smoothly at the terminal, you’ll leave your luggage upon arriving at the terminal and be on-board in 10 minutes.

Smart Concierge
Along with our SetSail passes we were provided with RFID Wowbands – a wristband which acts as a room key and is also used to charge drinks and other purchases to your onboard account. It was very convenient, you didn’t have to get your card out each and every time you purchased a drink or when you nipped back to your stateroom, you simply present your wrist to the pay point or to your stateroom door. And although not the most stylish accessory, the majority of passengers were wearing them!

We found the online Cruise Planner and Royal iQ smart phone app very convenient; it works well. We booked ourselves into a show before we embarked on our cruise using Royal Caribbean’s online Cruise Planner and these reservations showed up within the Royal IQ smart phone app and on the television in our stateroom! If you connect to the Wi-Fi onboard you can use the Royal IQ smart phone app during your cruise to make reservations and check your schedule – we found this very useful! And if you do not have the smart phone app there are IPads available at guest services where you can make reservations for dinner, book spa appointments, book shore excursion and much more!

Smart Experiences
The day we boarded the ship we were keen to explore and check out all the innovations onboard! We headed straight up to top deck, firstly to order a strawberry daiquiri from Sky Bar and secondly, to watch the North Star as it rose 300ft above the ocean!

Phil, our MD, was fortunate enough to experience the North Star & here’s what he has to say…
“Before I boarded Royal Caribbean’s Quantum of the Seas, I was extremely sceptical about the North Star and my honest  belief was that this was a ‘gimmick’.
How wrong can one be? It was the best part of the whole ship experience by far and this is without a shadow of doubt, the ‘Have to do experience’  whilst on holiday. If you do nothing else – do this!
You will see from my pictures that the sun was shining which makes all the difference. When the sun went behind the clouds it was good but not as awesome as when the sun was out and you could see the sea shimmering and the ship in all her splendour.
I guess at night, you will just see the ship lit up which will make for a great photo shot, but the day time works for me and just imagine being up in the pod overlooking the Cote D’Azur or in the volcanic bay of Santorini – WOW!”

From the North Star we headed towards the giant pink polar bear which stands on Deck 15 & of course we took the opportunity to have a photo taken!

We then continued into SeaPlex, a brilliant multi-functional area that hosts indoor activities such as roller discos, bumper cars and even a circus school. At this particular moment the bumper cars were in action and who can say no to a ride on the bumper cars? It was great fun and it was great to see a variety of age groups joining in!

After a very bumpy ride we left SeaPlex and continued towards the aft of the ship where we found both the Flow Rider and the Ripcord by IFly (sky diving simulator). Both are fantastic experiences & although we did not try out the Flow Rider onboard Quantum of the Seas, a few of us have tried it out on other Royal Caribbean ships and it is great fun – but difficult to keep your balance, so expect to fall!

I was fortunate enough to experience the sky diving simulator and believe me, it is awesome! Before you enter the wind tunnel you are shown a video that explains your body position and which hand signals to look out for to reposition your arms, legs and chin. After the safety brief you are suited and booted in overalls, trainers, goggles, ear plugs and a helmet and taken up to the wind tunnel with your instructor. A few of the instructors gave us an impressive demonstration before inviting us one at a time into the wind tunnel to experience it for ourselves. It is slightly nerve-racking as you are called towards the wind tunnel for your turn, but the instructors are great & help you to get into the correct position. The feeling as you ‘float’ in the wind tunnel is exhilarating & although you know that you are not falling 15000+ feet from a plane the feeling of the wind in your face is not too dissimilar. Oh and the fact that you can see the ocean surrounding ads to the experience!

After a quick adrenaline rush it was time for another drink – where else to head than the Bionic Bar, a bar that consists of two robotic bar tenders to prepare and serve your drink and an iPad to order! We were unable to order a cocktail at this particular time & if I’m honest it was more of a ‘gimmick’ – we did see it break down a few times! But when we did see it in use, it was rather impressive. The concept of being served your drink by a robot is exciting - The robots are set up with great precision in order to serve you the correct mix of spirits and sodas and then pour them into a cup ready to serve. We did happen to see one of the robotic bar tenders drop a cup (fortunately it was empty) but it was interesting to see that it noticed the accident and replaced the cup with another. 
My personal thoughts? I prefer to be served by a human bartender – I like the personal service of a human bartender!

The first evening we were booked into the show at Two70. I have to say Two70 is an impressive venue, by day a relaxing ‘café’ and by night an amazing innovative show set. The 270 degree panoramic view by day transforms into a ‘Vistarama’ by night. This particular show was called Star Water. The production was amazing – the stage is brilliant, it moves up and down in various places, people literally appear on the stage from nowhere and there are areas in the roof for dancers to drop down. But most impressive was the robotic screens and the beautiful 270 degree Vistarama projectable background – this brought the show to life! One thing I will say is the layout of the room is ‘different’ to say the least – so get there early and find a good seat – I highly recommend the seats in the middle at the front!

Now onto the food…
As you would expect, the food was delicious! Unfortunately we were unable to experience all 18 dining venues as we were onboard for just a short 2 nights. The day we embarked we stopped for lunch in Johnny Rockets – this isn’t the first time I have eaten at Johnny Rockets, but I couldn’t resist their delicious all-beef hot dog and thick chocolate milkshake!

The first evening we were booked into The Grande Restaurant, a beautiful and elegant restaurant where every night is a formal night – so dress to impress if you are dining in The Grande! The food was superb. What do we recommend? The Beef Carpaccio to start and the Mediterranean Rack of Lamb for main (until they change the menu of course)! We couldn't choose between the desserts so we ordered all five (between the four of us) & what a brilliant decision this was!

We chose to dine in Silk on the second evening, and what an experience this was – a complete change from The Grande! The menu is influenced by the tastes of China, India, Japan, Thailand and Vietnam – full of pan-Asian flavours! We were spoiled for choice and so the waiter recommended we had a selection of the starters between the 6 of us; my favourite? The Vietnamese Tacos for sure! For main I had the Hibachi Steak – the meat was delicious, and the Wasabi mashed potato that is served with it is to die for!

A room with a view?
 The cabins are lovely, as you would expect… great thought has been given to the design of the new cabins on Quantum of the Seas, maximising space and ensuring comfort. We were fortunate enough to be staying in balcony cabins (the D4 category) and there’s plenty of space, even with the furniture, on the balcony. The beds are super comfy, and there’s handy plugs next to the bed (something that is often missing on other ships). A very useful addition to the power options in the cabins are the double USB ports, meaning you only need to take your devices’ cables rather than the plugs themselves! We also noticed that we had actual coat hangers… yes real ones! And whilst we’re on the subject of storage there’s tonnes of it! There’s even baskets for shoes on the back of the wardrobe door!

Of course for those wishing to spend more time out of the cabin than in it there are new options when it comes to inside and oceanviews as well. Inside cabins now give you the choice to bring the outside inside, with the introduction of virtual balconies. This is essentially a floor to ceiling plasma screen that shows exactly what you would be able to see outside if your cabin had a balcony! It’s a great idea, and makes the cabins feel more spacious.  Oceanviews have a really good sized windows, but we have to say it’s worth the upgrade to the F grade Superior Oceanview. The difference in space between a standard and superior oceanview is noticeable, but more so than that… due to the position of the cabins, they feature an enormous round window that offers incredible views. But if you fancy one of these you have to be quick as there’s only 8 of them on board!

As this is Royal Caribbean there obviously has to be a WOW factor, and this is produced by the Loft Suites (I have to admit that on entering the first loft suite the first word out of my mouth was “wow”!). These suites really are something… from the gorgeous furniture (including an Eames-style chair) to the unique art in each suite, and the absolutely incredible views from your double height balcony doors. Upstairs the beds look out over the mezzanine and out to sea, and for now we’ll just have to imagine waking up to that view… And for those that might be worries about missing the TV that’s downstairs, don’t worry… at the flick of a switch your TV upstairs will appear from the ceiling! The loft suites are everything you’d want them to be when paying a premium for a suite… they’re plush, decadent, uber-comfy, and offer you something that we realised we miss when we cruise… going upstairs to bed!

Our overall thoughts of Quantum of the Seas…
The ship is awesome, the décor is classy and sophisticated and there is a good balance of adult entertainment and children’s activities – great for all the family!

Does it live up to expectations? Yes, yes it does!

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Holland America Line Announces Name For New Pinnacle Class Ship 2016

The following information has been provided by Holland America Line.

Earlier this week Holland America Line announced the name for its new Pinnacle Class Ship which is scheduled for delivery February 2016; ms Konningsdam. While the name is in honor of Holland America Line's rich heritage and deep roots in the Netherlands, it also reflects a new era with a bold name that is an original in Holland America Lines 141-year history.

Since 1883 every Holland America passenger vessel has borne the “dam” suffix, and ms Koningsdam carries on that tradition. The word koning means “king” in Dutch, and the name celebrates the majestic new ship. The name also pays honor to His Majesty King Willem-Alexander, the first king of the Netherlands in over a century.

“In choosing the name Koningsdam, we are honoring our rich Dutch heritage while reflecting that we’re entering a new era as a company,” said Stein Kruse, chief executive officer of the Holland America Group. “This new Pinnacle Class ship will be our largest, most contemporary vessel, and it was only fitting to give it a name that embodies great achievement for the future, while embracing timeless tradition.”

New design for a new class of ship
When it debuts in February 2016, ms Koningsdam will be a new type of ship for Holland America Line. At 99,500 gross tons and carrying 2,650 guests and 1,025 crew members, the vessel is the largest ever built for the company. The increased size provides more opportunities to add new public spaces and venues, and several innovative features will debut on ms Koningsdam. Familiar spaces and amenities currently featured across the Holland America Line fleet will also be found on the new ship.

To bring a fresh vision to ms Koningsdam, Holland America Line tapped Adam D. Tihany, one of the world’s pre-eminent hospitality designers. Tihany joins distinguished maritime designer and architect Bjorn Storbraaten who worked with Holland America Line on ms Nieuw Amsterdam and ms Eurodam. The two firms will create a modern and contemporary ambiance while incorporating Holland America Line’s classic hallmarks.  

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Monday, 15 September 2014

Work Has Begun To Stretch MSC Cruises' Armonia

MSC Cruises has begun their multimillion euro programme to stretch all four of their Lirica Class ships. 

Work began on 31st August to stretch MSC Armonia, the first of the four ships to undergo the refit. The vessel was cut in two and separated early this month, at the Fincantieri shipyard, ready for the pre-fabricated section to be inserted and welded.

The 80ft section, which was welded into place on 10th September, will not only provide 193 new cabins, but also a new waterpark area for the children, an enhanced boutique and refitted restaurants.

The refit will take approximately 9 weeks from start to finish, with a completion date of 17th November 2014. Upon completion MSC Armonia will carry 480 additional passengers and increase the ship’s weight by an estimated 5000 tonnes.

The three remaining ships are scheduled for their refit on the following dates:
MSC Sinfonia: 12 January – 16 March 2015
MSC Opera: 2 May – 4 July 2015
MSC Lirica: 31 August – 9 November 2015

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Friday, 5 September 2014

Seabourn Revise Dress Guidelines

The following information has been provided by Seabourn.

In general, the world is becoming less formal in terms of the attire people are expected to wear in a given situation. At the same time, Seabourn guests expect to encounter a level of elegance which is beyond that they would normally experience at home. In order to balance these two sets of expectations, the following guidelines have been implemented.

Daytime wear
During the day we request that swimwear is not worn in the interior public rooms. Further, brief shorts (such as jogging shorts and work-out apparel) are not considered appropriate attire in dining venues and lounges.  (Bermuda, or longer shorts and jeans are acceptable).

Evening wear
In the evening (after 6pm) there are two different dress codes:

     1.  Elegant Casual
Men: slacks with a collared dress shirt or sweater; Jacket optional
          Ladies: slacks / skirt, blouse, pant suit or dress
          This is the dress standard for all dining venues
          Jeans are welcome in all dining venues during the day
          Jeans are not appropriate in the Restaurant after 6pm
     2.  Formal
          In the Restaurant:
              Men: Tuxedo, suit or slacks and jacket required
              Ladies: evening gown or other formal apparel
          Dress in other dining venues is Elegant Casual
          Jeans are welcome in all dining venues during the day
          Jeans are not appropriate in any public venues after 6pm

The breakdown per cruise for the different dress codes is as follows:
        Up to 13 day cruise – 1 Formal night
        14-20 day cruise – 2 formal nights
        21 or more day cruise – 3 formal nights

Christmas & New Year Cruises will have two formal nights per week or four for the two-week cruise, with Dress Code on December 25 and December 31 Formal.

Formal Evenings in The Restaurant
A sign with the evening dress code will be posted in The Restaurant, the only area where the dress code will be strictly enforced on formal nights. On Formal nights, a selection of jackets will be available to be offered to gentlemen who arrive without one. Alternatively they may dine in their suites, or in the Veranda Café/Colonnade/R2/Patio/Sky Grill when open.

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Thursday, 4 September 2014

Royal Caribbean International Sell Celebrity Century to Chinese Travel Company

Royal Caribbean International have announced that they plan to sell Celebrity Century, the 19-year-old, 1,814 passenger ship, to Ctrip, a Chinese travel company.

Royal Caribbean International and Ctrip have entered into a joint venture, both managing the operations of Celebrity Century. However the details of this agreement have not yet been announced.

Ctrip International, Ltd is one of China's leading travel agencies, with interests in accommodation reservation, transportation ticketing, packaged tours and corporate travel mamangement. they have sent more than 120,000 passengers on cruises and makeup more than 10% of the Chinese cruise market.

Celebrity Century will complete its scheduled sailings through to March 22, 2015 itinerary plus scheduled farewell cruises, including one with President and CEO Michael Bayley before leaving Celebrity Cruises fleet in April. It has also been rumoured that the vessel will receive a full renovation ensuring a great cruise experience for the Chinese market.

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Friday, 29 August 2014

Celebrity Eclipse Will Undergo A Revamp April 2015

Celebrity Cruises has announced that Celebrity Eclipse will undergo a revamp April 2015 just in time for her six consecutive summer seasons from Southampton! The Solstice Class ship will arrive in the UK, May 2015, ready for the summer season with some luxurious new features!

Cellar Masters is becoming Gastrobar A new craft beer and comfort food venue
• Gastrobar's upscale casual surroundings will feature inviting entertainment and music for the complete sophisticated lounge experience
• The new venue will offer food and beer enthusiasts a choice of over 40 handcrafted boutique beers in addition to Celebrity Cruises' varied collection of wines and classy cocktails, all of which are perfectly paired with a menu of elevated bar-fare creations

American style Casino becomes a bit more British
• Guests will be able to enjoy more British style slot machines
• The bar will receive an upgrade with a reconfigured layout including a new seating area and larger TVs for viewing sporting events
• Better odds will be offered through more European-style roulette

Say Goodbye to the Pool Kiosk & hello to ‘Slush’ 
• The current sea and sun kiosk will be reinvented as a frozen drinks venue called ‘Slush’ featuring flavour-rich and fresh frozen cocktails
• The venue will be modern, bright and cheerful to entice passing guests
• Alcoholic and non-alcoholic cocktails will be served with perfectly balanced ingredients ranging from fresh pressed lemon juice to Persian lime

The Studio is becoming a brand new fine art photography studio
• The Studio will provide guests with a brand new, unique and Modern LuxurySM venue that will take the portraiture experience to a whole new level
• The Studio will specialise in ‘fine art photography’
• The Hot Glass ShowSM will remain, and The Studio will replace the Glass Exhibit

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P&O Cruises' Britannia To Feature Most Luxurious Spa Facilities

Britannia, (P&O Cruises newest ship, scheduled for delivery February 2015), is not just the largest ship ever to be built for the British market - She also has the glamour and sophistication of a five-star hotel, complete with five-star facilities and first-class amenities.

To relax and unwind, guests can visit Britannia's signature Oasis Spa; the largest and most luxurious spa amongst the P&O Cruises fleet, complete with a Spa Shop! The first Spa Shop to feature on a P&O Cruises ship will stock skin and haircare products by Elemis, La Therapie, Phyto, Bliss and Sebastian. The Oasis Spa will also be equipped with two other new features designed to appeal to couples and groups, the Oasis Villa and a new 'blowout menu'. 

The Oasis Villa
New to the P&O Cruises fleet, the Oasis Villa is an exclusive area for guests to unwind. Facilities include a private whirlpool and a personal spa therapist for a treatment of their choice.

Blowout Menu
Following recent trends in the UK market, the Oasis Spa will feature a new 'blowout menu', perfect for black tie evenings. Guests can nip to the salon to be treated by "honchos of the hair dryer and masters of the make-up brush". The blowout menu will include a variety of treatments from a deep conditioning hair treatment to a full blown 'bombshell' makeover.

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