Thursday, 23 March 2017

Cruise Ship Destination: Suva, Fiji.

Day 6 we arrived on the other side of the island at Suva. Suva is the capital of Fiji, and is known as a very green area due to the high rainfall. We docked at wharves in the centre of town, and again didn't book any tours.
There were a lot of locals selling tours and merchandise and hair braiding and henna body painting. It was interesting to watch the 'free shuttles' literally take tourists less than 2 minutes walk around the corner to a department store. All the tour buses also ended at the same store, so there must have been a kick-back.
The Voyager of the Seas offered 7 tours, ranging from $60US to $190US. Again, we have previously been on tours and decided to have a walk around the historic area of Suva. Once one has left the ship, one is bombarded with locals selling tours. We had watched them from our cabin. On port days, we rarely rush off the ship. We let the crowds go first and then we can leisurely walk off in our own time.
Like other passengers we were offered a 3 hour tour of the historic areas, Raintree Lodge, waterfall, local Village tour and entertainment, and a city shopping mall. Well.... my sister talked the seller – Kaiviti Tours - down from $40AUS each to $25AUS. We knew the ship was leaving at 5pm, and it was barely midday, so we knew we had time for a 3 hour tour. We waited over 25 minutes for the bus, and were told it was held up in traffic – I'm not sure this was true, as there was not much traffic around. An eight seater car arrived and 5 of us got in. The windows were tinted, but still ok for taking photos. First stop was the petrol station for fuel – strange, and then we had to wait for another petrol station customer to put air in their tyres so our driver could put air in ours. Really think this all should have been done BEFORE the tour started. This whole process took 15 minutes.... so we finally started the tour! We drove past a few old buildings very quickly, so barely had time to take a photo let alone take on board what was being said.
Next was old Parliament House, where the Fijian uprising took place with George Spatt. It is now abandoned, as we were told by our tour guide Big Joe, that no one knows what to do with the buildings. We went past a lovely park that would have been good to have spent some time walking around there, but we were on our way to the Raintree Lodge. As we drove up into the mountains, past some interesting and colourful suburbs, we drove though some villages, and this was when Big Joe said we would NOT be doing a local village tour and entertainment because it was Sunday. Fair enough, but Kaiviti Tours should have been honest enough to tell us this BEFORE we paid for the tour.
The second stop, after the petrol station, was Raintree Lodge. This is obviously a tourist destination where the tour guides get a kick-back. We were at a loss for what to do there. There is a cafe, on a small man -made lake. We are from a cruise ship – a food freighter – with so much food and drink, we really didn't need or want a cup of coffee and a snack.
We wandered around and tried to fill in time. Really wasn't a tourist site, unless one wanted to stay in one of the lodges - and even then it was not really a resort.
We were told not to say cheese, but to say bula -hence the 'sour' faces!
It started to rain and Big Joe said the waterfall wouldn't be good in the rain. This was the first of many excuses:- will be very busy with other tour buses; ...there are many stairs up and down; will be an extra $5 each to enter the park (should have been told that BEFORE we paid for the tour); …we will get in the mud with the rain and you will not make it back to the ship; ...the park will close if it rains too much; and the best of all...”this is a hire car and I don't want to damage it”. So no village tour and entertainment, and no waterfall.
Next stop was a lookout, where we were able to get out and take photos – guess by now Big Joe realised that the tour was a really quick tour, not three hours as we paid for.
As brother in law is a fire-fighter, we asked if we could visit a fire station. Big Joe said sure, there is only one in Suva and we can go there. We headed back down from the hills and into an industrial area to the fire station. Brother in law had a chat with the Suva fire-fighters, and it turns out there are three fire stations in Suva. Wonder what else Big Joe made up!!
Anyway, we were taken back to the department store where all the other shuttle buses were, and from there we walked back to the ship. The whole three hour tour had taken 90mins, and that was including the 15 minute petrol station detour, and the 15 minute fire station stop.
At the end of the day, we did get to see a little more of Suva than simply walking around, and it may have been worth $25, but honesty by the tour guide would have lead to a better review. Promising all the extras when they had no intention of providing them was dishonest. The cruise ships always say how their tours are guaranteed, and they are, but they are also so expensive. I would not recommend Kaitivi Tours in Fiji.
Next time we would simply go for a walk around the port as it is in the centre of town.

Thursday, 16 March 2017

Cruise Ship Destination: Lautoka Fiji

The last time we were in Fiji it was our honeymoon – 37 years ago. This trip, sailing on Royal Caribbean Voyager of the Seas, Day 5 saw us in Fiji again. 
The ship offered about 10 port tours ranging from $70US to $200US. We chose to do our own thing. When one goes to many of these pacific islands, although different in many ways, we find the tourist experiences to very similar, so we no longer do these tours.
Lautoka is a port that is on a small container wharf. It is a 15-20 minutes walk to town, but the ship provided tickets for a return coach ride for $8US each. It was recommended on board to get tickets prior to disembarking to avoid the queues at the wharf – well we need not have bothered, as we queued to get tickets the day before arrival, and then had to queue again behind with those who had not obtained tickets, while they purchased them – for the same price and were also able to charge to the cabin. No advantage booking on board.
After room service breakfast on the balcony overlooking the dock and watching the locals selling goods at a pop-up markets, we headed to the bus and the town.
Lautoka itself wasn't much. Retail shops, smelly fish markets. The locals were friendly and many smiled and said Bula. We walked around a few blocks and Peter bought a swimming rashie. I did find a fabric shop and purchased over 6 yards for fabric for about $35 AUS.
The shuttle bus dropped us off at a department store, which was crowded with ship passengers.
We caught the shuttle back to the ship to enjoy the un-crowded decks. We did look at the dockside markets, and almost bought another 'ship dress, but didn't. In total I think we spent about 90 minutes away from the ship.
Is Lautoka worth getting off? Yes and no. We would probably get off next time and walk into town, just to spend more time seeing different things - and to go to Maccas to use their free wifi, certainly won't need any food. As we slowly sail off into the sunset.

Tuesday, 14 March 2017

Royal Caribbean Voyager of the Seas

This is my review, and I can only compare Voyager with ships that I have been on so here we go......

Peter and I went with my sister and brother-in-law Royal Caribbean Voyager of the seas, on a 12 day trip to Lautoka, and Suva Fiji, then to Mystery Island Vanuatu, and then Isle of Pines, and Noumea New Caledonia.

Explorer and Voyager ships are both Voyager Class and very, very similar. There are five ships in the Voyager Class.Voyager has 15 decks and 10 pools and spas and about 12 bars and was built in 1999. The length is 1020ft and width is 157.5ft. Voyager can hold 3,138 passengers and 1,181 crew.

Boarding the ship was great at the Sydney Overseas Terminal. We came straight from the airport and joined the long queue to get into the terminal. The line moved quickly though, and we were chatting with family.

The cabin was like most of the other cabins, except it was the first time we have had tea making supplies – small electric kettle, tea, sugars, and long life milk. We think this is a bonus. Each evening we would pick up a few chocolate chip cookies the have with our tea (and pills) in the morning, and in the morning a couple of pieces of fruit – some to have for morning tea, and some for the cabin for late afternoon when we were getting dressed for dinner.
The fridge in this cabin was much colder than the fridge on Explorer. It was cold enough to keep our wine and water cold.
A negative was there was no coffee table in the cabin. This was particularly annoying when we had room service breakfast, which unlike Explorer arrived!!! Peter loves the balcony but I like to watch the news, ship news and world (CNN) news.
We were upgraded from a Deluxe Stateroom to a Superior Stateroom, which gave us an extra 16 square feet of room -sadly none of that in the bathroom.

Not a great variety of choices, but what we had was beautiful.We ordered room service twice, the first time (breakfast) it didn't turn up, the second time (lunch) it was really good and came on time. The room service breakfast menu was a basic menu, but ok.
Was a lot better than on the Explorer. First, it was kept a lot cleaner than the Explorer and it had a lot more floor staff. It was set up with the large 'sweets' areas gone and replaced with much needed tables and chairs. There was still a large 'sweets area' located in the main food serving area, that was ample for the passengers. There was also extra seating in front of the bar in the Windjammer, which on Explorer was a big vacant, open, unused space. We didn't have much difficultly finding a table, so just these few adjustments have made a difference with passenger dining on the Voyager Class ships.
Food was much the same, with a few improvements. I had Eggs Benedict twice, where one makes their own. One need to join a queue for toast – whether it be a muffins or breads, so that's not going to happen. I opted for French toast, which was not crunchy, with my poached egg, which was hard (opposite to Explorer where it was well under cooked on two occasions). However, the Hollandaise sauce was 100% on Explorer. For breakfast, I had mostly scrambled eggs, which was pretty good. Well seasoned and tasty. The Voyager also had scrambled eggs with an extra (bacon, ham etc), which was not as good. I also like crispy bacon – blame US trips for this – there was one station that had crispy bacon, so my breakfast routine was one station for French toast or pancakes (loved the pancakes – and they were not huge, just my size), another station for crispy bacon, another station for scrambled eggs (although some times it was at the end of the pancake section), and then the desert station, which was fruit in the morning, for my watermelon fix. Oh..did I mention the bar for the freshly squeezed orange juice? That was on the way in to the Windjammer before we had found a table. The fruit was much better presented than on Explorer. Explorer had silly little fruit cups, which I would get three of and only eat two of the things in the cup. Voyager has individual trays of fruit so I could get what I actually wanted – and no throw away disposable 'silly' cups. Peter was disappointed there was not an omelet station. Omelets were pre-made, and Peter said they were good.
We didn't go to lunch, as we were not hungry after breakfast. We did however go to afternoon tea, which was good, and on some days they were still serving lunch in one section.
We had dinner in the Windjammer twice, as the show times were changed, and late shows were way too late for us – see Sapphire Dining Room – and it was ok.
I did have a fall in the Windjammer on the second morning of the cruise. I slipped on someone's spilt tea/coffee. The swelling and bruise on my right knee came up almost immediately. We were lucky we were not rushing, as the fall could have been a lot worse. A staff member was there straight away, and didn't ask how I was, but asked if I needed a doctor! Some other passengers came to my aide, and what was surprising, there was a supervisor standing nearby who didn't even come to check I was ok. Needless to say, my leg was sore and it hurt to walk. Peter went to the bar to get some ice for the swelling – which really should have been offered by the supervisor – when Peter went to the Windjammer Bar to get some ice, and told the barman what had happened, he was most concerned and went and got a fabric napkin for the ice, and said to come back and get more if needed.
We had dinner here most nights. The exceptions were when we chose to go to the show instead of dinner. We chose the late dinner – 8.15, as the shows on ALL cruise ships we have been on have been about 7pm and 9pm. On Voyager, some of the shows were 8pm and 10pm. On those nights we chose to miss the lovely Sapphire Dining Room dining experience and eat in the Windjammer. 
 The food was wonderful, and our servers were very accommodating and were aware of our preferences and often catered for them without us asking.
For example, Peter likes heat in his meals so after the first evening meal when Peter asked for extra heat, each evening a bowl of chilli paste would accompany his meal. 

I'm not a dessert eater - unless it is chocolate and chocolate 😀. I also like lemon or orange sorbet. So most evenings I would get a bowl of orange or lemon sorbet - yummy.
The biggest inconsistency was with the drinks, on both the Explorer and Voyager. We paid for a drinks package, so if a drink was not as expected – or awful! - we could leave it and order another. We would not be happy if we were paying for individual drinks. I ordered the same champagne cocktail from many different bars, and although some were lovely to drink, some were not. Even the colours of the drinks were different. Same happened with Bellini's – one bar actually gave me a mimosa (champagne and orange juice) when asked for a Bellini. A Bellini is peach puree (or peach schnapps) and champagne – NOT what I was often given in different bars on board. Both these photos are Bellinis - neither had peach!!
Peter also had a problem with inconsistencies. At the pool bar when Peter ordered a XXXX Gold, it had to be poured into a WARM plastic container, yet when ordered from the drink waiters we got glass bottles. Interestingly, there were passengers in the spa and pool with glass bottles.
Another inconsistency was with signing for drinks. With a drinks package one should not have to sign for drinks, yet at the Promenade Cafe asked on two occasions for a signature. Needless to say we didn't tip the cafe workers!
I did try the mojitos again on the Voyager – still frozen. The R-Bar on deck 5 did make real mojitos, but that was a long way to go from the pool to get what one wanted. When we questioned a barman at the Windjammer, he laughed it off and said a frozen mojito has the same ingredients – he obviously didn't realise that 'blitzing' the mint leave and limes – including the pith – made the drink bitter and no taste of mint. Maybe some training needs to be put in place with the bar attendants. A drink waiter was walking around the pool with made up drinks in souvenir plastic cups. When I asked what was in it he said a number of fruits, including mango. Another passenger asked the same question and was told different fruit and no mango. I have a friend who is allergic to mango, so this was an important ingredient to leave out – no consistency.
Really no consistency, not even in the same bar! Not sure that we will get a drinks package next time, not worth the money if the drinks are not good.
There are three big pools on the Voyager, one in an adult only area. We didn't swim in the adult one – way too many people. The other ones had a lot of mostly unsupervised children at times, jumping and splashing, but when there were no kids, especially when in ports – that's the time to enjoy the pools. Sitting around the pools was relaxing, excepting when wet children ran past leaving puddles for others to slip on -which they did. We often used towels to wipe up the walk ways. 
I'm sure Royal Caribbean could afford a not slip matting for the walkways, like they have along the adults only bar. We spent a lot of sea days around the pool.

There were a lot of activities on board, especially trivia, bingo, art auctions and the active types sports of rock climbing, mini golf and flow rider.
Competitions were held most sea days. WE enjoyed competing in the bean bag toss.
 Brother in law Steve loved the flow rider. The shows were great, especially the two ice shows.

We loved going back to the cabin in the evening to find different towel sculptures. Almost every second day was a different animal.
Overall, we did enjoy Voyager, and would sail on her again. It would be lovely if Royal Caribbean sailed out of Brisbane, and we didn't have to add airfares or accommodation.

You would realise that we didn't especially enjoy our Explorer experience, maybe that was a one off bad experience (for a lot of passengers) – maybe we need to try it again, because Voyager was 100% better.

Celebrity Solstice is still our favourite!