Earlier this week, I returned from my second Royal Caribbean cruise to nowhere. I enjoyed the first one so much I decided to bring the whole family this time round, and it was just as awesome as I remembered it.
That said, it was a significantly different experience compared to the January sailing. First, I was travelling as a group of five, which presented new opportunities (to try more dishes) and challenges (to get seats for shows and activities). Second, I stayed in a regular balcony stateroom instead of a suite, which meant no concierge, free booze or Coastal Kitchen. Third, it was much more crowded, with twice the passengers compared to January.
It’s helped round out my impressions of Quantum of the Seas, and I’ll be updating a few of my reviews in the weeks to come, as well as the showdown article comparing Dream Cruises and Royal Caribbean (tl;dr, Royal still steamrolls Dream). In the meantime, here’s a few random thoughts I thought I’d share with soon-to-be-cruisers.
|🚢 Latest Cruise Compass and Show Schedules|
(25-29 March 2021)
|For the benefit of those with upcoming Quantum of the Seas sailings, I’ve scanned and uploaded the most recent Cruise Compass and show schedules. Use this to plan your day ahead of boarding.|
(1) It’s getting more crowded
I’ll readily admit that a major contributing factor to my amazing first experience with Royal Caribbean was the fact there were only 850 people onboard. Quantum of the Seas can normally accommodate just under 5,000 guests (but actual capacity is capped at 2,500 now, thanks to COVID-19 restrictions), so you can imagine how refreshing it was to have all that personal space.
This time round, I thought I was being clever by booking the week after the March school holidays- but forgot that I’d run right smack into the international school break. There were approximately 1,700 people onboard, and that naturally meant a very different experience.
It was never unbearably crowded, but there were obviously longer waits for things like the Solarium jacuzzis and FlowRider. There were also bigger crowds at trivia (bring it on!), and people were turned away from dance classes and other activities due to overcapacity. I hate to say it, but I think the golden age of cruising was in January, when you could spend hours in the jacuzzi without hogging it because there was literally no one else around.
It’s only going to get more crowded from here on out. On the final evening, the head of the dining room stopped by our table to chat, and casually mentioned that sailing capacity would be raised to 65% “soon”.
I was too inebriated at the time to clarify whether this was confirmed, but I can’t find any news report to that effect. However, Royal Caribbean’s CEO did allude to the possibility on an investor call back in February:
So, what we’ve started within Singapore in terms of protocols already being reviewed and there’s in the coming weeks we expect some of those protocols to be changed. For example, load factor constraint at the beginning of our Singapore operations was capped at 50%. We’re now in discussions about increasing that cap to 65% in the coming weeks and some of the testing regimes have changed.
The way I see it, 65% capacity is inevitable. Barring that infamous false alarm back in December, the cruises have gone without a hitch. You can already see some restrictions being loosened; in January we had to show our TraceTogether app or token to the staff before entering any venue, this time no one bothered to check. In January, there was a post-cruise swab (the ART kind, which is less invasive), this time there wasn’t any. It seems par the course that the 50% rule will be relaxed soon.
For what it’s worth, 65% capacity doesn’t mean you shouldn’t cruise; it just means you need to be more strategic with your planning. My tips:
- Check-in online as soon as it becomes available and choose the earliest possible boarding time
- Book shows, bumper cars, specialty dining and SeaPlex activities immediately after boarding. You can always reschedule/cancel things later, but once they’re full, they’re full. Everything can be done via the app (except SeaPlex bookings, which require you to go to the counter), so there’s really no excuse. You can book on behalf of your travelling companions in different cabins (link the reservations in the app beforehand), but they must also be boarded
- Grab a quick bite at Windjammer/Coastal Kitchen on boarding day and head to Solarium to soak or to FlowRider. This will be as quiet as it gets on the whole cruise.
- If you’re staying in a Grand Suite or higher, you have the added advantage of a concierge who can cut the queue and make bookings before you board. Use it.
- If all the show reservations are gone, it doesn’t hurt to show up and join a standby queue to fill the no-show spots. The staff really try their best to make you happy.
(2) There’s no more post-cruise swab
Out of an abundance of caution, it used to be standard practice that all cruise guests, whether on Royal Caribbean or Dream, would do an additional COVID-19 ART swab upon returning to Singapore. You didn’t need to wait for results, and the process really only added 5-10 minutes to your disembarkation.
As mentioned earlier, that’s been done away with, which should please those who hate having things stuck up their nose. Once you clear immigration, you’ll head downstairs, scan your bag for customs, and then you’re homeward-bound.
(3) Specialty dining is inconsistent
With the exception of Chops Grille, I wasn’t blown away by any of the specialty dining restaurants during my first cruise. Jamie’s was below average, Wonderland was disappointing, Izumi was dire.
When the time came to pick specialty dining for the second cruise, Chops was a shoo-in, and I decided to give Jamie’s another chance. Interestingly enough, the roles were reversed- it was Jamie’s that turned out to be the highlight meal, while Chops was just OK (the service at both remained at Royal’s usual high standards, and they remembered The Milelioness and I from the previous cruise, or at least did a damn good job of pretending to).
At Chops, they had trouble nailing the cook on the ribeye. The first one came too overdone, the second, too bloody. I didn’t get as many caramelized notes from the sear as the last time, and while it was still tasty, it didn’t relive the previous highs. The branzino, which I heartily recommended based on my previous visit, turned out to be disappointing too. While the flesh was moist, the skin lacked any sort of crispiness.
Jamie’s Italian, on the other hand, did a 180 (it helped that with five people, we could order way more dishes than normal). The appetizers were delicious, and I’d recommend the crispy squid, black truffle arancini and baked mushrooms. The ultimate garlic bread is not bad too (even though you’d be tarred and feathered if you asked for garlic bread in Italy) .
The pastas this time were cooked al dente, and although the seafood linguine would still benefit from a stronger taste of the sea (there’s only so much you can do with frozen seafood), it got the job done. Desserts were notably weak, although this seemed to be a ship-wide issue.
tl;dr, you shouldn’t take my word as gospel when it comes to the specialty dining (except Izumi- seriously, avoid that place), because the consistency doesn’t seem to be there yet. I think there’s merit in trying Chops, Jamie’s and maybe Wonderland to see whether you have better luck than I did.
(4) The Main Dining Room is best visited for dinner
On my previous cruise, I stayed in a Grand Suite and had access to Coastal Kitchen for three meals a day. The food was so good I didn’t even think about visiting the Main Dining Room (MDR), the primary dining venue for non-suites passengers.
There were plenty of opportunities to visit the MDR this time- I’ll do a more detailed report when I update my post on Quantum of the Seas dining, but my sense is that the food progressively improves as the day goes by. Breakfast is bad, lunch is OK, dinner is good.
The less said about breakfast the better; even though it’s supposedly cooked to order, I didn’t find the quality all that much different from the buffet. Lunch is better, but more geared towards fast-casual options, with burgers, quesadillas, pasta and sandwiches being the mainstays.
Dinner is where it’s all at, and the highlights were Steak Diane, Mojo-Marinated Grilled Pork Chop, and a surprisingly delicious prime rib. You can order as many appetizers, mains and desserts as you want, and the service was excellent. Even though we did My Time dining, they tried their best to give us the same table every night so we could build a rapport with our waiter.
So I’d recommend getting lunch at the specialty restaurants, if you’re intending to try them, and going for dinner at the MDR.
(5) Take breakfast at Solarium Bistro over Windjammer
The Solarium Bistro feels like the best-kept secret on Royal, at least for breakfast.
The food selection here is a subset of Windjammer, but despite the “healthier cuisine” branding, you’ll still have hash browns, french toast, pancakes, eggs made to order and stations with cold cuts and pastries. It’s also much quieter than Windjammer, since most families believe that kids aren’t allowed in the Solarium (they’re technically not allowed in the pools, but the bistro is OK).
If you don’t mind trading a smaller spread for a quantum leap in peace and quiet, you’ll like this place.
(6) Don’t buy anything at the art auctions
One of the many distractions onboard Quantum of the Seas are art auctions, where guests are invited to view and make bids on various pieces of art.
I need to be careful with my words here because the company behind these auctions (it’s run by a third party called Park West, not Royal Caribbean) is known to be litigious, but before you attend one of these, I’d highly recommend reading this piece by Bloomberg Businessweek about what goes on behind the scenes.
By all means attend one for entertainment value, but purchasing artwork onboard a ship may leave you with a bad case of buyer’s remorse. For a more detailed description of the auction process (albeit on a different Royal Caribbean ship), refer to this post.
(7) Returning cruisers get perks
Upon completing your first Royal Caribbean cruise, you become a Gold member of the Crown and Anchor Society, Royal’s loyalty program. Don’t get too excited though; it’s a 6-tier scheme, and Gold is the lowest rung.
It doesn’t mean it’s useless, though. Gold members enjoy the following offers when sailing (you may need to visit Guest Services to get this letter, as I didn’t receive it automatically in my stateroom):
- 50% off any wine, beer or soda by the glass
- 10% off any glass of wine, beer or soda
- 25% off any coffee
- US$2 free play
- 10% off any internet package
- 10% of RCCL logo products (min. spend US$25)
- Buy one, get one 50% off photos
- 10% off any spa service (excluding medi-spa)
Each of these perks can be used once, and the biggest perk is probably the 50% off drink coupon. You’ll need to inform the bartender/waiter that you’re using it, and they’ll debit the coupon accordingly.
Do note the US$2 free play is meant for the casino (and not the arcade, as I innocently assumed at first), and you must redeem it by the second night of the cruise (something that was conveniently left unmentioned in the letter).
(8) BeatleManiacs deserve headliner status
Royal Caribbean classifies shows into two categories: Headliners, and “live entertainment”. The former are the A-list acts, hosted in the largest performance venues where prior bookings are required. The latter play at smaller venues like the Music Hall or various bars, where the audience can come and go as they please.
During my first cruise, the BeatleManiacs were rostered as “live entertainment” and placed in the Music Hall. They sounded fantastic, but the setup limited their creative options, and it was basically one long medley of songs (not a bad thing, mind).
This time round, they were at Two70 (replacing Viktoria Stryzhak, who’s no doubt technically talented but doesn’t have the same kind of stage presence). This is a more elaborate venue, with big screens, trapdoors and elevator platforms. The band members could pop in and out with costume changes, and do a few other surprising things (which I won’t spoil). Seeing them switch from classic Beatles to Sgt. Pepper’s to post-Yoko brought the performance to the next level.
It was an electrifying show, and so good my parents went twice.
Bonus: Don’t bother with NextCruise
I thought about this one after publishing, so I’ll just tack it on here. On Royal Caribbean ships you’ll find a NextCruise booth (near Two70 on Quantum), where you receive additional incentives for booking your next cruise while onboard.
I was keen to check out some Voyager of the Seas sailings for early 2022, but didn’t find the offer very compelling. You basically put down a deposit of:
- 3-5 night cruises: S$100/pax
- 6 nights+ cruises: S$400/pax
Depending on the stateroom type and whether you place a refundable or non-refundable deposit, you’ll receive onboard credits as follows:
|Balcony or lower||US$25||US$50|
|Suite or higher||N/A||US$150|
Refundable deposits can be returned up to 90 days before departure. While Royal will price match any future changes (i.e if the price drops, you can get an adjustment and partial refund in onboard credit), you can’t use your AIA Vitality or HSBC discounts here.
I just found it a lot of work to do for a US$25 onboard credit, and decided to pass. Cruise veterans, help me out- was I supposed to bargain or something?
Royal Caribbean has just extended its Singapore sailing season for Quantum of the Seas till October, and the new dates will open for booking on 13 April. This means there’s plenty of time still to experience it, although I think twice is good enough for me.
What I’m hoping is that we’ll see a new ship brought in. Voyager of the Seas sailings from Singapore to Thailand and Vietnam (in November) were being sold onboard my last cruise, but it’s anyone’s guess as to whether they’ll actually happen. Let’s hope an accelerated vaccination schedule can make these a reality.