I never imagined that I would go on a cruise holiday until I was well past 60 years old and had the time and money to leisurely travel the high seas in style. Cruising seemed expensive, old fashioned and too confined, with no option to escape what I imagined was a monotonous routine of eat-sleep-play-repeat.
I caved when cabin fever reached boiling point a year after the pandemic hit Singapore and I was faced with the choice of cruise or nothing
The only quarantine-free travel option available to Singaporean residents is a 3/4 nights cruise out to international waters in the South China Sea and back to Singapore, without making a single port call.
I reluctantly signed up for the cruise-to-nowhere and was amazed that it far exceeded all expectations for the following reasons:
#1 Royal Caribbean’s exceptional customer service
Royal Caribbean International, one of the top-rated cruise operators in the world, was granted permission by the Singaporean government to operate the cruise-to-nowhere from 1 December 2020 to 21 June 2021, on board the Quantum of the Seas.
The best thing about Quantum of the Seas is the consistent and attentive service provided by each of 1,300 strong crew who embody the company culture built on the ethos that ‘anything is possible’. It is no surprise that Royal Caribbean has been voted the best cruise line for 17 years running, best sales and services for 11 years running and best cruise line in the Caribbean for 16 years running.
All passengers have access to a dedicated guest services desk on deck 4 where passengers can book activities and make restaurant reservations. All options are available on the Royal Caribbean app long before departure. Royal Suites guests in the Sky class ($2-4k for three nights) have access to a dedicate concierge desk while those in the Star class ($4k+ for three nights) have a Royal Genie whose job is to satisfy guests’ every whim.
What makes the dedication even more remarkable is the huge personal sacrifices that the crew have made in order for the cruise-to-nowhere to work. Each crew member had to quarantine for a whole month before boarding the Quantum of the Seas and many will spend the next six months without stepping foot on shore in order to maintain the safety bubble.
Fun fact: The holding company, Royal Caribbean Group, is headquartered in Miami and was incorporated in Liberia.
#2 Gastronomic delight
Quantum of the Seas provides the ultimate gastronomic experience designed to ensure that passengers are unrecognisable when they return home. There are two types of restaurants: complimentary and specialty.
The most popular complimentary restaurant is Windjammer Marketplace on deck 14, near the outdoor swimming pool. Windjammer serves buffet meals for breakfast and lunch (Chinese, Indian, Western) and offers real value for money. [email protected] is quiet and ideal for those who like a café style ambience, delicious pastries and good coffee (at an extra cost) for breakfast. Dinner is served on decks 3 and 4 in the American Icon restaurant. Pizza is available until 3am in Sorrento’s Pizza on deck 4. The service in all restaurants is efficient and tables turned quickly to minimise waiting times.
The specialty restaurants are superb and the ideal choice for dinner. All guests can dine at a cost of $65 (Star class is complimentary) and it is advisable to book early to avoid disappointment.
Wonderland, which is based on the Alice in Wonderland theme, consistently emerges as a clear winner for the culinary intelligence of the dishes. It is not, as I mistakenly thought, a restaurant for children.
The Chef’s Table is one of the best-kept secrets of the Quantum of the Seas and has the best service thanks to staff like Ivan from the Philippines who introduced us to Honig wine from California in this video. Chef’s Table is a private room in the Chops Grille restaurant and offers a belly-bursting six course meal with wine pairing that costs $112.
Jamie’s Italian is also a favourite, with guests rating it better than any Jamie’s on land. I will dine here on my next cruise. Izumi is a Japanese restaurant worth visiting if you enjoy sushi.
Alcoholic drinks are expensive so it’s advisable to buy the deluxe beverage package at $74pp per day. Don’t try to sneak any alcohol onboard – bags are checked thoroughly at the terminal prior to departure.
Don’t forget to stop by Bionic Bar which has two robot mixologists twerk when they not making the perfect cocktail. See video here.
#3 Mind-blowing variety of entertainment and activities
There is so much to do onboard that many guests will only use their rooms to sleep and spend their days and nights trying to do it all.
Starwater (55 mins) is the Quantum of the Seas signature show which explores human emotions such as love, heartbreak and despair expressed in beautifully choreographed music, dance and acrobatics which will keep you on the edge of your seat. It’s the one show that I would watch again and again. It makes the most of the $7m robots in the theatre that cost $37m to construct.
Comedy Juggler: Steve Rawlings entertains by juggling everything from plates to water glasses. I found his jokes far better than his actual performance especially when he quipped that he was “the best for the price” and was “sweating harder than Mike Tyson doing a spelling test”.
Magic Master: John Taylor’s performance was gripping because he performed some tricks that were hard to figure out. His magician’s assistant was even more impressive as she gyrated like Beyoncé on stage in her many costume changes. Some kids may find the acts scary.
I have never been to casino and was not going to sail without seeing what the fuss was about especially after writing about the gaming industry in Africa. I had so much fun and now understand why Las Vegas is such a tourist attraction.
Casino Royale offers a one-hour free tutorial before it formally opens at 10.30pm when the cruise ship is in international water. During that time, I learnt the basics of how to play roulette, Blackjack and poker and ultimately settled on roulette which involves betting on a number. I played $130 over two days and still have $42 in chips that I am saving for my next cruise.
Gambling is a huge part of Chinese culture and the casino is the only place where people had to wait a long while for their turn to play, especially at the roulette and Blackjack tables. Baccarat is the most popular cards game in Asia and has more tables dedicated to it.
The quietest times to be in the casino were first thing in the morning. Smoking is allowed in some parts of the casino and this can drift to the non-smoking sections.
The North Star is a glass capsule that rises 300ft above sea level and provides 360° views from the top deck. Some passengers recommend doing this before the ship sails from Singapore while other enjoy the view at sea.
Sports enthusiasts can enjoy the rock-climbing wall, RipCord by iFly (skydiving simulator), FlowRider Boogie Board (simulates surfing), basketball free throw and volleyball competitions. There is an outdoor running track on deck 15 for those who must keep their routine even on holiday.
There are dance classes (K-Pop, Latin, Pop Music), trivia and quizzes, clinics (sushi making, cupcake decorating and Martini making) and demonstrations (napkin artistry and towel folding). The bumper cars are a family favourite.
Shopping options onboard include jewellery, leather goods and beauty with brands such as Cartier, Tiffany’s, BVLGARI, Salvatore Ferragamo, Coach, Michael Kors and Kiehl’s represented.
#4 Rest and relaxation
Those who simply want to relax and sunbathe have a choice of three swimming pools: the main outdoor pool where passengers can see and be seen, an indoor pool near the spa and an adults-only pool in the solarium.
The spa offers a wide range of body, facial, hair and cosmetic treatments such as Botox. They also offer nutritional and fitness advice as well as assessments such as how to walk properly.
#5 Safety first
Quantum of the Seas is equipped with modern technology that makes it easier to navigate through stormy weather and avoid ship-sinking icebergs. There are also sufficient lifeboats in case of an emergency. The cruise-to-nowhere was fairly smooth though those who suffer from motion sickness will be most comfortable sleeping in the midship section and on a low deck.
To avoid a repeat of the Diamond Princess cruise that docked in Yokohama and infamously became one of the epicentres of the COVID-19 pandemic, Royal Caribbean has instituted some strict covid-19 protocols:
• Quantum of the Seas is operating at one-third of its passenger capacity
• The crew cannot disembark from the ship throughout the duration of their stay and mingling between different departments is kept to a minimal
• Passengers must take a COVID Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) nasal-swab test within 72hrs of departure and complete a health declaration prior to boarding. Royal Caribbean covers the cost of the test
• Once onboard, passengers have their temperatures checked before they leave their rooms every morning and wear a trace bracelet at all times. Masks must be worn at all times except when eating or drinking
• Passengers are routinely asked to sanitise hands as they move between different sections of the ship
• Passengers cannot serve themselves at the buffet tables and must take a new plate and cutlery to go back for seconds
• Every table and chair in the restaurants, bars and casino are wiped clean after every use
My worries were easily put to rest.
• Take advantage of the discounts on offer for buying add-ons prior to boarding such as alcohol packages and internet
• Get onboard early to maximise the experience. Boarding starts at 2pm and takes about 30 mins to go through immigration and registration
• I disembarked at 7am to avoid the crowds and took just 10 mins to go from my cabin to the taxi rank. Singapore efficiency at its best.
• The dress code is relaxed in Singapore so there is no need to pack pearls or a little black dress for formal dining though I suspect this is a requirement in Europe and the US. I packed for an outfit change for each day and found myself going from day to night in the same attire
• Carry a US or European adapter to avoid the $25 charge of ‘borrowing one’ from the crew
• Please don’t forget to tip especially the forgotten staff like the stateroom attendants
I can’t wait to take my next cruise!
© 2021 Muloongo Muchelemba. All Rights Reserved
Sports July 25, 2021