Author: Kyle McCarthy
“Good, better, best,” is how Dhani Jones, Quantum of the Seas’ Experience Advisor for Sports & Fitness, talks about making smart food choices, and it’s an apt description of a cruise aboard Royal Caribbean’s latest journey-maker. Since I was only onboard for a two-night press preview, “better and better” is what I imagine this extraordinary ship will become.
Good are the smart decisions to keep what Royal Caribbean does so well: excellent kids programming, lively interior malls packed with enticing shops and cafes, friendly and knowledgeable staff, well designed staterooms.
Quantum Makes Family Cruise Vacations Better
Better is putting the Adventure Ocean kids club for ages 3-12 on two levels, where young children can play in an under-the-sea environment on Deck 11, while older ones experiment in the Adventure Science Lab on Deck 12. Programs for Aquanauts (3 to 5-years old), Explorers (6 to 8) and Voyagers (9 to 11) are free about 9am to 10pm, with premium group care available till 2am at $7 per hour. (Private babysitting can be booked at $19/hour for up to three kids as long as they’re 12 months or older.) New are the autism friendly toy lending bags to keep in staterooms, staff training for counselors working with kids on the spectrum, and special activities designed for them. Shrek and other Dreamworks characters are onboard, and the “Madagascar” cast has been integrated into H2O, a new toddler wading area with its own wave pool.
Even better? Asking teens to help design their low-key Living Room lounge, very cool Fuel dance club and giving them loosely structured activities from about 10am to midnight. Guests ages 12 to 17 also have a better ZSpa menu of facials, massages, mani/pedis and hair styling for a fee.
Much better is making highspeed WiFi available (for a fee) throughout the ship. Royal Caribbean has invested in a new generation of medium-Earth-orbit satellites with sophisticated receiving antenna arrays on each new ship – a bet that should pay off by attracting cruisers who are afraid to be out of touch.
Best are the big thrill customer experience ideas: Making socializing easier at a bar manned by robots; “dynamic dining” which allows passengers to eat where they want and when; evening entertainment that soars with high-tech production values. The multifunction sports space transforms to provide a variety of recreation options. Between the whooshing Ripcord by iFly skydiving simulator and North Star, a pod that gently elevates guests 92 meters above sea level, Quantum of the Seas now meets the needs of a huge range of thrill-seekers.
Tech is Behind the Biggest Wow Factors, Like the Bartender
Someone with a budget must have asked James Bond what he’d like to see on this ship, then built it for the next generation.
Bionic Bar by MakrShakr is the most photogenic wow. Swipe your smartband on an iPad, select a mixed drink from their menu or opt to be your own mixologist. A screen above the bar indicates by name whose drink is being mixed by which arm, who is in the queue, and which of four conveyor belts will be delivering your creation. It's a digital icebreaker that thrills and charms.
Parents should note that Bionic Bar is off limits to under-21s when sailing from North American ports (the minimum age drops to 18 in other ports), but future ships will surely have a junior version.
Transformers and Talent Entertain At Sea
Two70 Degrees is the enormous entertainment space whose Vistarama virtual decor (digital lighting, digital curtains, digital walls) suits the mood of guests -- or attempts to completely alter it -- with 18 synchronized projectors. It can be a quiet spot to read and have a latte in full view of the sea. Come evening, it houses Starwater, which remixes elements of Cirque du Soleil acrobatics, “Fuerza Bruta” imagery and an electropop score in an unusual, frothy entertainment. VP of Entertainment Nick Weir demonstrated that guests could sit below the moving floors, or up above the choreography in one of several mezzanines, and have a completely different show experience every day.
Six high-definition roboscreens that can be angled and moved in dozens of permutations are suspended in front of the three-deck-tall electronic canvas. These graceful transformers (programmed by Robotic Arts of Las Vegas) interact with the elegantly crafted content (by Moment Factory of Montreal) in startlingly beautiful, hypnotic, and sometimes dull ways. There’s such enormous potential in this space that, in a few years, we may see the kids club contributing doodles for amateur shows.
None of the technology overwhelms the very talented cast and crew of Mamma Mia!, the full-length musical which had me at “I had a dream…” Deduct $178 per person – the price of a Broadway ticket – from the cruise fare, and the value of a cruise vacation of this caliber becomes apparent. More adult fun: There’s an after-party where passengers can mingle with the cast and crew, and live music till the wee hours in several other venues.
Staying 21st Century Active On Quantum of the Seas
With only 38 hours to explore, we just tasted Seaplex, which transforms its hoops, nets and boards to accommodate a full size basketball court or a circus school with trapeze and airbags. The coated floor is used for bumper cars, rollerskating, and an evening disco where DJs levitate above the crowd. Spectators of every age have plenty of seating, with table tennis and other shared games on a balcony level.
Head aft for Ripcord, an hour-long skydiving experience for ages 3 to 333 that will stand your hair on end, or Flowrider, the popular surfing simulator (reservations recommended for both free activities). Deck 15 is wrapped by a jogging track (three times around equals a mile) that leads to a rock climbing wall, outdoor pools with LED screens and a 30-foot-tall, red steel bear sculpted by artist Lawrence Argent. The state-of-the-art Vitality Fitness Center & Spa occupies the bow.
Both the enclosed rec center and the large solarium with an indoor swimming pool are big pluses during inclement weather. On the minus side, despite having four pools and four hot tubs, there are no lifeguards or PFDs for casual use available on the ship.
Innovative Staterooms Serve Multigenerational Families
There is a dizzying array of cabin configurations among the 2,090 sleeping 4,180 double occupancy. Families can choose from two-story lofts sleeping four (in a king and sofabed) to three-unit connecting family suites sleeping up to 10. As you can see from the quick tour in my video, the larger staterooms do have more storage, extra power outlets, relatively spacious bathrooms with great showers, and no upper bunks.
Inside cabins sleeping two or four have a webcam-fed virtual balcony that’s larger than the video “portholes” that Disney Cruise Line introduced, but not as much fun without Nemo occasionally swimming by.
To Eat Non-Stop or Not To Aboard Quantum
You can eat a lot, and often, on Quantum of the Seas, using their new Royal IQ app or helpful Guest Services staff to book a table. Meals at five of the 18 table service restaurants are included; premium dining fees range from $25 to $50 per adult (less for children) at the others, including the well-reviewed Jamie Oliver’s Italian and the eclectic and stylish Wonderland.
Interestingly, the vegan and gluten-free fare at the premium Solarium Bistro and the Devinly Decadence juice bar (named for health and weight loss celebrity Devin Alexander) have been popular. Buffets and snack bars also have some healthful choices, in addition to corn flakes and chicken fingers.
The variety of decor and menus keeps things fresh but my reaction to the food was “just okay.” On the other hand, the Cape Liberty airport shuttle driver shared that every other passenger he had ever driven back from a Royal Caribbean ship said the food was “excellent.” (Share your opinion in the Comments section below.)
Trip Planning Details for a Quantum of the Seas Cruise Vacation
Not a relaxing flop-and-drop vacation by any stretch of the wallet, Quantum of the Seas does teleport passengers far, far away with technical innovations that have just begun to be explored.
Quantum will serve New York Metro area cruisers for several months, then move to her new homeport of Shanghai, China, where she will sail to Korea and Japan all year round. Upcoming design modifications to wow her Asian fan base include more high-end shops than just the Cartier, Kiehl’s, BVLGARI and Hublot currently in the Esplanade Mall, more Asian fare restaurants and a Kung Fu Panda Noodle Bar, expanded VIP gambling areas in the casino, and tweaks to the entertainment.
If you want to be wowed like I was and can’t sail before the spring of 2015, book a cabin on her younger sister, Anthem of the Seas, which will begin a New York to Caribbean route in April 2015.
For more information and to book your cabin and dining experiences, contact a travel agent or visit RoyalCaribbean.com.