Quantum of the Seas is one of the most innovative but at the same time, most controversial ships, to debut in the last few years. In many respects, Quantum is significantly different than what Royal Caribbean and other cruise lines have done in the past. I find this quite exciting.Naturally, people who like what was done in the past will need to get used to these changes. This process has not been helped by various technological glitches that plagued the ship early on.
However, during this cruise, people who were at first skeptical of this ship seemed to be captured by the beauty of her interior and to become comfortable with her different way of presenting a cruise experience.
Should every cruise ship be like Quantum? No, but I am glad that there is a ship like Quantum. Indeed, I believe even Royal Caribbean would agree with this. Before Quantum entered service, I wrote that there were at least three versions of the Royal Caribbean cruise experience within the Royal Caribbean fleet. Now, there is a fourth version.
By way of background, this cruise was not the first time that I was on Quantum. In November, Royal Caribbean invited members of the press to see its new ship. She was impressive at the press event. However, I wanted to see how she was in action with real people aboard. Since new ships almost always have teething problems, I decided to wait until January to cruise on her.
This particular was a 12-day winter cruise to the Caribbean out of Bayonne, New Jersey, which is part of the Port of New York.
The Quantum class ships were originally conceived as all weather cruise ships. Most modern cruise ships were designed with warm weather cruising in mind. They have lots of open deck space and they are at their best sailing the calm waters of the Caribbean or the Mediterranean.
A problem arises if you want to base a ship in a northern port such as Bayonne or Southampton, England during the winter time. The open deck areas cannot be used until the ship reaches the warm seas. In addition, the ship may be uncomfortable if it gets into a winter storm en route to the Sun.
Most of what would have been open deck on Quantum is covered. This includes the adults only Solarium area, one of the main pools, and the Seaplex, a section that roughly corresponds to the sports area on other ships. Consequently, those areas can be used throughout the cruise even in the cold weather of the north.
Quantum has also been designed so as to have improved seakeeping abilities. She cuts through the waves rather than bounces over them. As a result, I found her ride smooth and comfortable.
The interior of Quantum is also impressive. I have consistently found the ships built by Meyer Weft (e.g., Celebrity Solstice, Norwegian Breakaway, Brilliance of the Seas) to have excellent quality and attention to detail. Quantum is no exception.
When I first saw Quantum, my impression was that her interior looked more like a Celebrity cruise ship than a Royal Caribbean cruise ship. Her style is up-market and elegant. However, in operation, Quantum clearly has the upbeat feel of a Royal Caribbean ship thus proving that a cruise line's style comes more from its people than the hardware.
I had no problems with the service on Quantum. In general, the crew were competent and friendly. Indeed, there were a few incidents where crew members who I had never met before went beyond what I expected. I found this particularly impressive because they had no relationship to maintain with me and no expectation of a financial reward.
Quntum takes a much different approach to dining than other cruise ships. It has no main dining room and thus has no traditional fixed dining system or even the now familiar flex dining system. Rather, under Dynamic Dining, guests instead have the option of dining in four (five if you are staying in a suite) complimentary restaurants and a battery of extra-tariff specialty restaurants.
I liked the variety offered by this system. It enabled me to have more dining experiences than on other ships. The food quality in each venue was up to the Royal Caribbean standard with the food in Coastal Kitchen (suite guests only) a knotch above the other complimentary venues.
The Dynamic Dining system is quite controversial. Quite a few guests said they missed not having the same waiter each night who comes to know your likes and dislikes. One of the benefits of the traditional cruise ship fixed seating system is that you do develop a relationship with your server over the course of the cruise. However, in the clourse of my travels, I have noticed that fewer and fewer people are selecting the traditional system. Indeed, at the late seating on many ships lately, there have been numerous empty tables. I would not be surprised if most lines eliminate or significantly modify the traditional system over the next decade.
In any event, I am not sure that this is a fair criticism of Dynamic Dining. I had breakfast in the American Icon Grill during the first few days of the cruise. Without making any special request, the same waiter served me each time and he remembered what I like for breakfast.
Along the same lines, I had several meals in Coastal Kitchen and there the servers remembered me and my preferences from visit to visit. My conclusion is that the level of personalized service depends more on the skills of the server than on the dining system.
Another complaint often heard is that the restaurants do not vary their menus during the course of the cruise. Thus, if you go to one restaurant several times during a voyage, you will probably end up having the same meal more than once. The solution here is to try all the different venues. If you do, you will encounter as much variety as you would in a traditional main dining room over the course of a cruise.
Perhaps the biggest source of controversy with Dyamic Dining is the reservation system. In order to prevent everyone on the ship showing up at the same time at the same restaurant, guests are encouraged to make reservations ahead of time. You do not have to make a reservation but guests with reservations are given priority access.
Before coming aboard Quantum, I was concerned that having to make reservations would restrict my freedom to adjust the cruise to suit the circumstances. I do not know prior to a cruise what kind of dining experience I would like on a given day during a cruise. Similarly, I do not know much beforehand what time I would like to eat on a given day. It depends upon such things as the people I meet during the cruise, what happened during the day, what else there is to do on a given evening. One of the great virtues of the flexible dining systems available on most ships these days is that it allows you to be spontaneous.
But after experiencing Dynamic Dining, my pre-cruise concerns seem unjustified. I was able to adjust where and when I had dinner without much difficulty.
Another problem is that the reservation system does not seem to be a very good regulator of passenger flow. I generally like to eat late, roughly at the time that would correspond to the late seating under a traditional system. It was when I always dined on QE2 where I got my start cruising and it has just remained with me. As a result, I did not experience any lines and was always seated at the times specified in my reservations. However, I did hear that at the more popular dining times, even people with reservations sometimes had to wait to be seated.
This is not altogether surprising. When you make a reservation at a restaurant, the restaurant does not normally hold a table empty until you arrive. Instead, the restaurant accepts the reservation based on the assumption that a table will become free at the time of the reservation. If the people dining in the restaurant take longer to dine than the restaurant expected, people arriving at the restaurant will have to wait even if they have a reservation. When you are dealing with the number of people that travel on a large cruise ship, this problem is magnified.
Time should alleviate this problem. A restaurant learns from experience how much time it should allocate between reservations. In addition, it can find ways to speed up service so that the turnover is quicker and more efficient. Indeed, I heard from people who have done several cruises on Quantum that this problem has diminished even in the relatively short time that the ship has been in service.
Leaving aside Dynamic Dining, there are some other culinary features on Quantum that deserve special mention. First, since Quantum does not have a main dining room, it does not offer the Tuti Salad bar, which is an outstanding option offered at lunch in the main dining rooms on most other Royal Caribbean ships. You tell the chefs which of the wide array of ingredients you want and they build a salad for you. While not offering as an extensive array of ingredients as at the Tuti Salad bars, Cafe@270 on Quantum offers very good made to order salads. In addition, it has a nice selection of sandwiches, paninis and wraps as well as pastries.
But if you are looking for a lunchtime dessert, Quantum has great fresh baked cookies. These are available at the bakery counter in the Windjammer buffet restaurant. They can also be found in the Concierge Club.
Somewhat overshadowed by the introduction of Dynamic Dining is the fact that the entertainment offerings on Quantum are cutting edge.
In the main theater, there are no traditional production shows. Rather, Quantum has a full-length production of the Broadway musical Mama Mia. Although long - - two and a half hours - - this is nicely performed. The Abba music is universally appealing and overcomes the rather thin plot.
The other centerpiece show in the main theater is Sonic Odyssey. This is a multi-media spectacular utilizing such things as a stringed instrument that uses the entire theater as its sounding board. There are also singers, dancers, aerialists and a wall of drums.
The theater is also used for more conventional shows. That cruise ship standard, the Love and Marriage Game, is done here. Visiting comedians and singers also gave performances. Of these the most memorable was Marcus Terell & The Serenades. I have enjoyed them before on other ships.
On certain sea days, there were 3-D movies in the theater. The films were major Hollywoood releases from the last few years. Quantum's theater is a very good venue for seeing such films and makes for a pleasurable experience.
Quantum's second major entertainment venue is 270. This is a technologically enhanced lounge at the stern of the ship with comfortable living room style seating.
On sea days, the large LED panels perform “Robot Shows” in which they move about as videos produced especially for Quantum are played. These are quite clever and worth a look - - they only last about 10 minutes.
270 is also used for “virtual concerts”. These shows were also produced for Quantum and involve projections on the screens that cover the windows in 270 with various artists performing in concert. Although more technologically sophisticated, I found these to be like watching a video of a live concert on the large LED screens that ships often have in their pool areas.
The centerpiece production in 270 is called “Starwater.” It involves the ship's singers and dancers, aerialists and of course, 270's technology. The first time I watched this production was from the back, standing behind the seating area. My reaction was that this show was not much different than some of the production shows on Celebrity Cruises' Solstice class ships and thus nothing new.
However, I went back again and saw Starwater from the seating area near the front. This was a totally different experience. The performers appeared all around me, coming from above, below and performing just inches away. I was in the midst of the show. It was much more exciting and enjoyable.
The plot of Starwater is not easy to discern. In fact, I did not think it had a plot. However, one of the performers told me that it is about the relationship between men and women. In the first part, the performers are at a urban fashion show. It is analogy to a cold world where the people do not interact. Then a muse appears, sings and flies around, which brings men and women together. The final part of the show based on tango dancing and music halls is a celebration of this new relationship. OK, don't worry about the plot.
Quantum also has a number of day-time entertainment features. The North Star is a giant crane with a capsule at the end, which takes guests high over the ship. There was a line of passengers waiting to take this ride seemingly all day, every day. It is a fun ride and the views are great. I do not like heights yet I was comfortable throughout this ride - - it was no more uncomforatble than riding in a glass elevator.
The other two action features debuting on Quantum were the sky diving simulator and the bumper cars in the Seaplex. I'm not big on amusement parks so I pased on these. Other people seemed to enjoy them, however.
In May, Quantum will be leaving North America and sailing half way around the world to make China her new home. To make the ship more attuned to Asian tastes and preferences, much will be changed on Quantum. This naturally raises the question why all the fuss and controversy over a ship that will only exist in her present form for a few months.
The answer is two-fold. First, Quantum is the first ship in a class of ships. Anthem of the Seas and Ovation of the Seas will follow. Thus, the concepts developed for Quantum will live on in her sister ships.
Perhaps more importantly, there is the question of how Qunatum's innovations will impact other cruise lines. What will be borrowed and what will be discarded in the ships that will be competing with the Quantum class? Not everything about Quantum is perfect but has raised the ante and by so doing changed the course of the cruise industry.
Cruise ship review - - Royal Caribbean International - - Quantum of the Seas