Sports club meets Vegas meets theme park meets cruise ship, these enormous vessels are real winners if you like your vacations larger than life. As we overheard one little boy say to his father, "This doesn't look like a ship, daddy. It looks like a city!"
Typical Per Diems: $75-$115
Adventure sails the Caribbean from San Juan (Dec-Apr).
Explorer sails the Caribbean (Nov-Mar), Bermuda (Apr-Nov), and Canada/New England (Sept-Oct), all from Cape Liberty, NJ.
Mariner sails the Mexican Riviera from Los Angeles (Jan 2011). She sails the Caribbean from Galveston (Nov 2011-Apr 2012).
Navigator sails the Caribbean from Fort Lauderdale (Jan-Apr).
Voyager sails the Caribbean from Galveston (Jan-Apr 2011) & from New Orleans (Nov 2011-Apr 2012).
Truly groundbreaking when they were first launched, the Voyager-class ships are still among the largest and most activity-rich passenger ships at sea, boasting a full-size ice-skating rink; an outdoor in-line skating track; a 1950s-style diner sitting right out on deck; a 9-hole miniature-golf course and golf simulator; regulation-size basketball, paddleball, and volleyball courts; huge two-level gyms and spas; and the rock-climbing walls that have become one of Royal Caribbean's most distinguishing features. And did we mention they also have monumentally gorgeous, three-story dining rooms, florist shops, and a "peek-a-boo" bridge on Deck 11 that allows guests to watch the crew steering the ship?
Great for people-watching, the four-story, boulevard-like Royal Promenade runs more than a football field's length down the center of each ship and is lined with bars, shops, and entertainment lounges and anchored at each end by huge twin atria. Voyeurs will be glad to know that three decks of inside cabins have views from bay windows of the "street scene" below.
Though each ship carries 3,114 guests at double occupancy (because many staterooms have third and fourth berths, total capacity for each vessel can reach as high as 3,838), remarkably, the ships rarely feel as crowded as you'd expect. On our last three sailings, we found many public rooms nearly empty during the day and didn't have to wait in line much at all the entire week, even though more than 3,200 passengers were aboard. As we heard one woman comment to her companion, "I know there are 3,000 people on this ship, but where are they all?" Kudos go to the crew for efficiency, and also to Royal Caribbean for a design that features enough appealing public areas to diffuse crowds comfortably, plus a layout that encourages traffic to flow in several different directions. This keeps crowding down and also means you don't tend to find yourself in the same spots day after day -- it's entirely possible to be aboard for 6 days, turn a corner, and find yourself in a room you've never seen before. That said, when meeting up with family and friends around the ship, make sure you decide exactly where and when you're rendezvousing or chances are you won't see them for days!
One thing that deserves mention about ships this large is that even though ongoing maintenance is standard (replacing stained upholstery or carpeting, for instance), it's tough keeping up with the demands of constant use by thousands of passengers, especially on the ship's soft goods. On one sailing aboard the Voyager, for instance, we noticed some work that hadn't yet been addressed (a torn curtain in the dining room and soiled fabric on some chairs).
Though not huge (at 160 sq. ft. for insides and 173 sq. ft. for standard ocean views, including balcony), Voyager-class cabins are comfortable, with Internet dataports, minifridges, safes, TVs, pleasant pastel color schemes, and hair dryers. Bathrooms are on the cramped side, with little storage space, few amenities (soap and shampoo only), and only a thin sliver of counter. The cylindrical shower stalls, though definitely tight for large-size people, have good sliding doors that keep in the water and warmth.
Of the 1,557 cabins, 939 have ocean views and 757 have verandas. There's a single huge Penthouse Suite, 10 Owner's Suites, and four Royal Family Suites that accommodate a total of eight people with two bedrooms, plus a living room with sofa bed and a pair of bathrooms. Smaller and cheaper family cabins sleep six, some on sofa beds. For voyeurs, the 138 atrium cabins on the second, third, and fourth levels of the four-story Royal Promenade have windows facing the action below, with curtains and soundproofing to keep most of the light and noise out when you want downtime.
Twenty-six cabins are wheelchair accessible.
Each ship has about 3 miles of public corridors, and it can feel like a real hike if your cabin is on one end of the ship and you have to get to the other. Running down the center of each ship is the bustling, four-story Royal Promenade; lined with shops, bars, and cafes, it's the center of onboard life. Other promenade attractions include an elegant champagne bar; a comfy English/Irish bar with "sidewalk" seating; a Ben & Jerry's ice-cream bar; shops; and a bright cafe that serves pizza, cookies, pastries, and coffee 24 hours a day. Voyager, Explorer, and Adventure also have a large sports bar that gets big, raucous crowds when games are broadcast (and puts out free hot dogs and nachos to keep them there), and an arcade stocked with classic 1980s video games. On Navigator and Mariner, those were scrapped in favor of Vintages Wine Bar, created in collaboration with the Mondavi, Beringer Blass, and Niebaum-Coppola wineries. Full of wood and leather, with terra-cotta floors, attractive vineyard-themed lithographs, and a 600-bottle "cellar," the bars showcase more than 60 vintages. Prices are reasonable and guests can taste any variety before ordering. Classes in wine appreciation are held here throughout the week, and passengers can also stage their own tastings by ordering any of 13 special "wine flight" tasting menus, with selections grouped by taste profile, varietal, or region -- for example, merlots, Australian wines, and so on.
In total, there are some 30 places aboard each ship to grab a drink, including the Viking Crown complex on the top deck, with its elegant jazz club and golf-themed 19th Hole bar; the dark, romantic, nautically themed Schooner Bar; and the clubby cigar bar, tucked away behind a dark door and hosting blackjack games on formal evenings. Aboard each ship, the futuristic or Gothic-dungeon-themed disco is entered through a theme-park-like "secret passage," while the huge three-story showrooms occupy the opposite end of the kitsch spectrum: beautifully designed, with simple, elegant color schemes and truly lovely stage curtains -- the one on Adventure decorated with peacock designs, the one on Explorer depicting a chorus of women standing under golden boughs amid a rain of leaves. Excellent ice shows as well as game shows and fashion shows are held throughout each cruise at the Center Ice Rink, which has a sliding floor to cover the ice during nonskate events. Open skating for passengers is scheduled throughout the week.
Each ship has a two-story library-cum-computer-room with about 18 computer stations and webcams that allow you to send your picture as an electronic postcard. There are also sprawling kids' areas with huge oceanview playrooms, teen discos, and jumbo arcades.
The best spots for chilling out with a book during days at sea include the seaview Seven of Hearts card room and Cloud Nine Lounge on Deck 14. Those really wanting to get away from people can retreat up the curving stairway to the Skylight Chapel on Deck 15, which gets almost no traffic and is even free of piped-in music. (It also lacks windows.)
Pool Fitness & Spa Facilities
Each ship has a large, well-equipped oceanview gym, though the arrangement of machines and the many pillars throughout can make them feel tight when full. Each has a large indoor whirlpool and a huge aerobics studio (among the biggest on any ship), and their two-level spa complexes are among the largest and best equipped at sea, with peaceful waiting areas where New Agey tropical-birdsong music induces total relaxation -- until you get your bill.
While crowds tend to disperse around the ships' public areas, on sunny days things can get tight out on the main pool decks, where deck chairs are squeezed into every level of the multistoried, amphitheater-like decks. The vibe can be electric (or at least loud) when the pool band starts playing. Guests seeking something more peaceful can usually find it in the adjacent Solarium, with a second swimming pool and two enormous whirlpool tubs under a sliding roof. Behind the Johnny Rockets diner, Voyager, Adventure, and Explorer have a kids' pool area with a water slide, wading pool, hot tub for adults, and dozens of adorable half-size deck chairs for the kids. On Navigator and Mariner, the area is reserved for teens, with deck chairs for sunbathing and an outdoor dance floor with sound and light systems. Deck 13 is the hub of sports action, with the much-touted rock-climbing wall, skating track, miniature-golf course, and basketball court. Appointments must be made to use the more popular facilities (especially the wall), but this is a good thing as it cuts down on lines.
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Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.