A fun family holiday without the airplane struggle? Yes, please.
I won’t lie, 2 weeks ago if you said cruise to me, I’d say ewww. But I was wrong, and I’m willing to admit it.
Cruising is good old-fashioned family fun, and it’s a great way to see the region without having to suffer through any plane rides. Let me say that again, you can explore Asia without that toddler-vs-plane battle we’ve all fought so hard. Winning!
On behalf of Sassy Mama, our family of four (Dad, Mum, Miss 4 & Miss 2) road tested Royal Caribbean’s Voyager of the Seas® on a 4 night/5 day cruise in early August.
Here’s the skinny on our experience.
We spent 4 nights/5 days on Royal Caribbean’s Voyager of the Seas® in early August 2015. The cruise travelled from Hong Kong to Danang (Vietnam) via Sanya (China) and back to Hong Kong. We left Friday afternoon and were back in Hong Kong before we woke up on Tuesday.
Why it works for most families
My kids cried when we had to go home. And I think that’s about all you can ask for from a family holiday. That came out all shades of wrong, but you get the drift. This is a holiday built for families – lots of food options, DreamWorks experiences, a well-qualified kids club, loads of family activities, exploring a new country, some quiet time for mum & dad, and no plane rides or jet lag in sight. It ticks all the boxes for a manageable but exciting long weekend.
Why it might not work for you
This is not a luxe holiday. Royal Caribbean looks to be the H&M of cruise lines – it’s dependable, clean, and international, but far from luxe. If you’re looking for a Mr & Mrs Smith-inspired vacay with kids in tow, try another liner.
Also a deal-breaker for some families is that kids must be toilet trained to use the pools. Under U.S. public health regulations (all ships comply to this) there are no diapers, even swim diapers, allowed in the pool. There are special splash areas for little ones, but only on certain ships including Freedom of the Seas®, Liberty of the Seas®, Independence of the Seas®, Oasis of the Seas®, and Allure of the Seas®.
Take a look at our detailed breakdown and decide for yourself, if this is up your alley.
THE ONBOARD ACTIVITIES
You will never be bored, there is so much to do. Each day the cruise publishes a schedule of events- you can join in group activities, run your own race or simply do nothing by the pool.
Such a glorious pairing of words – Kids Club. The best judge of Kids Club are the kids. And my four-year old constantly asked ‘Are we going to Kids Club now?’ Royal Caribbean Kids Clubs are manned by staff with bachelor level qualifications in teaching, and they all have experience in the classroom. Kids are not only in safe hands, they’re properly engaged with a program built to maintain their interest. But get in quick on the first day, they have a quota.
For teens, there was a dedicated teen space set up like a nightclub. Kids sit at tables and booths, and they can buy each other drinks and snack from a bar. You could just tell it was a place where first loves are kindled, and hearts are broken. It’s easy for me to write that because my kids are so tiny, maybe mums (or dads) of teens see that as a nightmare. To me, it looked quite grown up and aspirational.
Royal Caribbean Kids Clubs also cater for special needs kids, and they’re Autism of the Seas endorsed (out of the US). On our ship, kids under 3, and those not completely toilet trained couldn’t join kids club. Again, check your booking to ensure you’ve booked a ship with the best kids facilities, if this is relevant for your family.
The DreamWorks factor was a right hit for my kids. By pure chance, my girls had become Shrek-obsessed over the school holidays so we were ripe for this experience. The character breakfast was a wonderful way to start the day after a few balmy cocktails on our balcony the night before. Nothing quite says fun like watching Shrek and friends do the Gangnam Style dance while you eat pancakes for breakfast.
Meeting Princess Fiona in person almost had our 2-year old self-combusting with excitement. The breakfast comes at an additional cost of US$10. The DreamWorks parade (free) had our 4-year old standing with her mouth open one minute and busting a move the next. It was an extravaganza for young kids. They also had a pool-side dance party (free) where the characters came to dance with the kids. There was A LOT of dancing going on throughout the cruise, my girls were delighted with the dance factor.
This is where cruising really hits its stride, particularly for older families. They have multiple pool and spas that are salt-water based, perfect for beach hair and that proper holiday feeling. Burn off those pancakes and try surfing on the FlowRider® experience that rolls out real waves, conquer the sizeable RockWall®, play basketball on the full size court, or join an ice skating session at the ice skating rink (yes, the ship is that big…crazy).
We discovered arcade games on this cruise, and life will never be the same again. Who new 4-year olds have the motor skills to beat mum at Sega Rally?! The arcade game was a pay-for-play experience, but it’s partly compensated and a US$20 credit lasted us the entire cruise.
For not-so-active kids, there’s also organised activities like cupcake making classes, scrap booking and more. These are at an additional charge.
We did the cupcake making class. It was run by the ship’s very bubbly Pastry Chef. She was amazing with the kids. To her credit, she had our 2-year old captured for the entire class. I didn’t think that would be possible. It was well worth the additional cost of US$15/head.
The food options were plentiful for a long weekend. All meals are included in your basic cruise fee, with access to the main dining room and a few buffet-style venues.
For the kids
Voyager of the Seas® had a dedicated kids menu with the usual suspects – chicken tenders/nuggets, pastas, pizzas, burger and simple meat and veg. There are lots of options at the buffet where a salad bar with cut up cucumbers, carrots, broccoli, cheese cubes and more made for a great snack plate of fresh foods to break up the fries and ice cream treats. There are unlimited snacks, drinks, coffee and cakes available 24/7 at the cafe.
Voyager of the Seas® Hotel Director shared that much of their produce is sourced from the US, so you can rest easy knowing those chicken nuggets, dairy and other foods we worry about are sourced from a reputable US-approved source. The entire ship aligns to U.S. standards of food and hygiene safety.
However, there’s no kids cutlery, nor any kids cups or plates at meals. The staff are wonderful with kids, but they definitely don’t have the equipment for very little ones. You can make special requests through their online portal when you book, this includes dietary requirements, if you’re weaning or have an allergy that will be catered for.
Premium food outlets
Additional to these outlets are more premium dining experiences. We tried two of these venues.
The first was Johnny Rockets, a fun 50’s style diner where the staff sing retro songs and dance. Our girls loved going here so much we went back again. The staff had them up and dancing after their meals – it was good fun. The cover charge is US$6.95/person and they offer old-school style burgers, onion rings, shakes, fries, deserts and soft drinks.
We also went to Giovanni’s Table, an Italian style trattoria with delicious tiramisu and some nice wines. Dinner here costs an additional $25/person and our meals were a distinct step up from the main dining room. It had a nice ambiance, and would be great for a date night while the kids were at kids club or with a baby sitter (extra charge for that, obviously).
Both Johnny Rockets and Giovanni’s Table were positive experiences and worth the cover charge. You definitely don’t need to go to these places on a weekend trip, but they were less crowded than the main eateries and a nice time out from the main ship.
There is also unlimited room service. Room service isn’t an extensive menu but it ticks the box for late night snacks or a quiet lunch in the room while little ones chill out.
We stayed in two Deluxe Ocean View State Rooms with a balcony. The rooms are compact, clean and functional. Ours had a lounge, TV, fridge, desk, wardrobe and more. We didn’t spend much time in our rooms, so they did the trick and the beds were very comfy. Each room had a king size bed that can be split into two beds.
We had to separate and each take one child with us, which the kids loved but I found a bit strange. Call me strange, but I like to sleep next to the hubster while on holidays.
For families, there are options for connecting rooms, rooms with bunk beds, or Suites. Like with any travel, booking early will get you the best room set up. The suites have sofa bed lounges and would be more ideal for a family of our size.
THE DAY TRIP
We had a great time spending a day off the boat in Danang, Vietnam.
It was very easy to get on and off the boat, you beep out with a special card they allocate you and beep back on – it’s just like using your HKID at the airport.
HOW MUCH DOES IT ALL COST?
Long weekend cruises start from from HKD 3,638/person for the lower rooms.
This was an all-inclusive cruise, but of course some things are additional. Other than the premium dining experiences, there is also an additional cost for drinks. You can pay as you go, or buy a package. I’d recommend waiting to purchase your drinks package until you board and can eyeball the drinks menu. We bought the Unlimited Package, but in hindsight we probably wouldn’t have spent that much if we paid as we went. It was peace of mind to know we could order drinks and try different wines without running up a crazy bar tab.
The other additional costs is special activities. On our cruise these include cupcake making class, scrap booking, Pets At Seas (Build-a-bear inspired teddy making). The program will be different for each cruise so you’ll need to check the cruise guide and keep some budget aside for these activities. One bar tender told me on cruises out of Australia they hold whiskey and vodka tastings, sounds like the programme is mixed up depending on the audience.
The staff. Our cabin attendant was a star. Our 4 year old complained about a blister on her foot as we boarded and he came to her rescue with bandaids. He was also a rockstar towel folder and we came back to monkeys hanging from the roof or bunnies on the bed. Above and beyond!
For older kids, the teen facilities were amazing. The FlowRider®, Rock Wall, full size basketball court, great pools and more meant teens had a lot to occupy them. They also run great ‘VIP Teen’ activities like meeting the dancers backstage.
Cruising makes for a very manageable mini-break. All you need is a few hours early mark from work on Friday afternoon and you can be back in the office Tuesday morning. You could get away with only 1.5 days of annual leave to pull this one off.
There’s a high proportion of passengers smoking in the casino which sits at the centre of the ship. We’re so used to living in a non-smoking environment these days that just a whiff of smoke is quite distinct. We spent about an hour of our date night at the roulette table and had a ball, but I must admit it got a bit too smoky for me in the end and I’m not usually bothered by cigarette smoke.
The high percentage of Chinese tourist was an amazing return-to-school Mandarin intensive for our eldest who speaks Chinese, but our blonde two year old was paparazzied like K-Pop star.
I asked for a spare diaper or two on the last day, just to see what would happen if I ran out. Two separate staff members from two different departments (Guest Services and the ‘General Store’) said they couldn’t help me and offered no solutions. If we’d truly run out of diapers, I would have been quite upset. I should note I was assured by the ship’s Hotel Director in my interview with him these types of issues can be resolved, but my experience contradicts that. Make sure you bring extra diapers and formula. Wipes were available at the shop, but there’s no diapers or formula sold on board.
The other issue we had was bottled water. Even on the unlimited package they’ll only give you one bottle at a time. If you’re like us and drink a good 2L a day, you need to grab a bottle every time you walk past a bar and save them for the evening. I found that infuriating.
Hot tips for great cruising
- Bring your Ergo for little ones. These ships are monsters and little legs get tired. I spent a lot of time with Miss 2 on my hip by the end of the day. Bring your carrier to customs for boarding and embarking, again lots of walking and people, it was easiest to scoop her up.
- Pre-book your beauty treatments, baby-sitting and additional services through the boat’s online portal well in advance. We didn’t get the chance to do this and missed out.
- Stash some bottled water for your day trip or bring a water bottle and fill up at the water station before you leave.
- Get back to the boat a little early on the day ports. We got back about an hour before ‘curfew’ and waltzed back on the ship without lining up. 45 mins later the line was quite long to get back on board.
Hong Kong booking and enquiry hotline: + 852 3189 3200
Email: [email protected]