December 2014 - Quantum of the Seas to Caribbean - Bahamas
Once aboard the Quantum I began comparing it to the Oasis with its Central Park theme its beautiful Carousel and a bar that took you from one floor to another while you sipped your drink. I looked for the spacious and beautiful promenade that made you feel like you were entering a five star hotel. I looked for the greeters like the ones on the Oasis who welcomed you on board and the staff who smiled and made your transition from life on land to life on sea as smooth as possible. After all, I was sailing on the same line that owned and managed the Oasis and the Allure of the seas and this ship was bigger so it had to be better - right? Wrong!!! None of what I was looking for was there.
When we got on board my wife and I found ourselves standing above The Royal Esplanade the Quantum's version of the Oasis promenade. It was beautiful but something was wrong and I couldn't quite figure out what it was. The Esplanade was spacious and bright but then it hit me. This Promenade looked like our shopping mall back home complete with kiosks running down the middle. "Oh my God," I said to my wife. "We are vacationing in a mall. I hate shopping malls." My initial reaction turned out to be correct as day after day hawkers tried to entice passengers to sample and view their wares and crowds of shoppers blocked passage as they pushed and shoved to secure bargains. Each time we were not docked the Esplanade turned into Black Friday at Targets, Feline's basement in Boston and Canal Street in New York City. This scene sucked the class from the ship.
My first order of business when I got on board was to change a dinner reservation. We discovered months before sailing the Quantum would not have a main dining room and if you wanted anything other than buffet food while on board you had to make a dinner reservation for one of the four complimentary restaurants or one of the "for fee" specialty restaurants, on-line, prior to boarding; a task that would tax the computer skills of many people I know. The days were gone when the only dining decision you had to make was whether you wanted the first or second seating for dinner. I had completed all reservations weeks before boarding but wanted to cancel one restaurant and book another.
When I tried to change the reservation by telephone a few days before sailing I was informed that it had to done by Guest Services aboard ship. With that in mind after my wife and I boarded we went straight to Guest Services; a room filled with electronic tablets and agents showing passengers how to "do it themselves" using the electronic tablets provided. Is this what is meant by a Smart Ship, I thought ? When I finally got to speak to an agent I was told he couldn't help us. He told us to go to an agent at one of the four free restaurants to make the change. When we found the restaurant we were greeted by a long line of disgruntled passengers waiting for a frustrated reservation specialist struggling to complete a single dinner reservation using a "Smart Ship" reservation system that was obviously not cooperating. As a retired Information Technology Management Consultant for twenty years I concluded during the cruise that the software which defines this ship as a Smart Ship was as flawed as the ObamaCare rollout - but I digress. A 30 minute wait on line resulted in my being told that I was on the wrong line. The frustrated staff member who appeared on the verge of tears told me I had to make the change at the specialty restaurant of my choice. I navigated my way through this huge vessel and finally found the specialty restaurant. Total time to change a dinner reservation on board was one hour.
After the first day and a number of other incidents it became obvious that we were taking part in the testing of a new Royal Caribbean business model; one that contained a whole new set of standards for cruising. My guess is that this new model calls for replacing staff with technology, utilizing the ships prime real estate for profit, slowly moving customers from free dining to paid dining and cutting costs by cutting amenities for guests. This begs the question is Royal Caribbean trying to become the Spirit Airlines of the cruising industry?
The most significant change RC made was to not include a main dining room on the Quantum. This change known as Dynamic Dining now requires passengers to be responsible for securing their own dinner reservations. Reservations are also required for shows. For a seven night cruise a passenger is required to make as many as 14 different reservations on- line prior to boarding. This would tax the computer skills of most people I know but if it isn't done passengers may very well find themselves waiting on a very long line outside a restaurant for dinner at 9:00 pm. They will also be on standby for all shows and may not get in. One passenger told me they should rename the ship Reservations of the Sea. Dynamic Dining is most definitely not working.
It became a bit depressing to hear passengers and crew complain about the cruise. One night as my family and I waited on a long line forty minutes past our reservation time at The Grande Restaurant we could hear those around us say, "never again on this ship", "this dining system is broken," " this ship is too much work and too stressful." At times crew members said to me "there is not enough staff on board and we are exhausted " and "none of us want to be on this ship." I can honestly say I had not heard one positive comment during the entire cruise.
There were other incidents that I could recall to demonstrate the negative effects RCs new model has on travelers but I will stop and move on to the positives. There are a lot of positives.
There is no question the ship is beautiful. The rooms are large by cruising standards, very clean and well serviced. The check-in process at the dock in Bayonne is the best I've ever experienced. The food is good and plentiful and an improvement over other RC ships. There is more than enough space and lounges for everyone to sit around the pools. The staff works hard and does the best they can with what they have.
Without a doubt the most memorable part of the cruise was what the ship did for its passengers on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. They pulled out all the stops to make it a wonderful holiday. They provided free champagne, cookies and eggnog, a Santa Claus and elves, Christmas gifts for everyone between the ages of one and seventeen, Christmas Carols sung by the staff in the Esplanade, a fun parade with fabulous costumes and the most beautiful Midnight Mass my wife and I ever attended. Thank you for that.
In summary, the Quantum of the Seas is geared toward a certain demographic of which I am not a member. Many of the other passengers I spoke to feel they don't belong either. It's geared toward those who don't mind losing the main dining room, who don't care about the pampering we older cruisers are used to and who go on a cruise to gamble and shop. That doesn't define us.
Will I ever sail the Quantum again? Probably not. I understand the Oasis may also move to Dynamic Dining. If so, I will cross that ship off my list as well.