It was a strange sensation that I was feeling – a sense of panic and freedom mixed with excitement. It’s the thrill of being a virgin, I guess. Don’t misinterpret, I mean the first time setting sail from land. Ahoy, seafarers, first mate Hema is on board Royal Caribbean’s Quantum Of The Seas!
The route was: Singapore – Ho Chi Minh City – Hong Kong – Xiamen – Shanghai.
I was overjoyed when the organisers said I could bring a partner and I decided on my mother. And why not make it a family vacation, so my dad came along as well.
My parents have not been overseas in 23 years, when they went to India. So you can imagine how excited they were.
In mid-June, the Sivanandams boarded the majestic liner, which was a beauty and made my feet tingle.
Checking in was a breeze as we did that online a week before the cruise so all we had to do was to head to our cabin.
I initially expected the rooms to be small but our stateroom, which came with a balcony, was rather spacious and comfortable for three adults.
There was a nice bed, a cosy sofa bed, which my dad gladly took over and a reasonably sized bathroom.
Featuring a contemporary layout, the rooms on the Quantum class of ships are on average 9% larger than those of the cruise line’s Oasis class ships.
Having a stateroom with a balcony is simply wonderful. I remember sitting out on the balcony one day as we were cruising to Hong Kong and drowsing off but waking up to a most spectacular sunset. My parents too had their quiet time on the balcony, sipping tea and enjoying each other’s company, accompanied by the sound of the waves.
While not every stateroom comes with a balcony, the Royal Caribbean ensures that everyone gets the view of the sea. This is in the form of the new “virtual” balconies – real-time views of the ocean and destinations, a feature that is only found on the Quantum Of The Seas.
Now this Quantum is a smart ship, so guests have the flexibility to make reservations for their dining, entertainment and activities at their own convenience
You are encouraged to make dining reservations prior to the ship’s departure. However, it also gives you the flexibility to change or even make your reservations once you’re on board. You may wonder why there is a need to make reservations. This is because the dynamic dining concept on Quantum Of The Seas is truly intricate and expansive. You have a choice of 18 restaurants for your culinary experience. I spoke to a couple from Singapore who have been on cruises many times and they said this dining concept is a new take on the traditional main dining room on other ships.
The traditional main dining room has been re-imagined as five complimentary, full-service restaurants, each with its own distinctive cuisine and ambience. My parents and I had a gastronomic affair with the vast choices, as there is something for everyone. Among the complimentary restaurants are American Icon Grill, which serves classic American dishes. I absolutely enjoyed the clam chowder soup, crab cakes and the roasted rack of lamb here.
There was also Devinly Decadence, which will be a joy for health-conscious people because it serves food you love – all less than 500 calories. The desserts were heavenly, with my personal favourite – a beautifully done dark chocolate mud cake – gobbled up guilt-free!
There are also several speciality dining restaurants on board where you pay a cover charge.
One particular restaurant that caught my eye was the Wonderland Imaginative Cuisine. The first thing that came to mind was Alice in Wonderland. Even reading the menu here requires some “artistic” work, something for you to discover. The dishes are inspired by various elements – the sun, ice, fire, water, earth and dreams. They are fantastical but absolutely delicious. Eating here is such an adventure.
The other restaurant is Jamie’s Italian – by none other than Jamie Oliver. I have always been a fan of his since his Naked Chef days, so eating here was a dream come true. Tucking into a rustic Italian meal meant I crossed off one item from my bucket list.
If you are a person who cannot live without connectivity, like me, fret not. I was well connected all nine days on board but of course that came with a price tag of US$135 (RM515) in total. However, I must say it was worth it. This is because the ship operates with unprecedented bandwidth using satellites.
I had no problems connecting with my friends on Instagram, Facebook or Whatsapp.
When you’re not eating
You won’t get bored on board the Quantum. Apart from the rock-climbing, roller-skating, the FlowRider – which is a surfing stimulator (I learnt here that balancing on a surf board is not my forte) – bumper cars, casino and arcade games, there are also the RipCord by iFly and North Star.
The RipCord allows you to experience skydiving at sea in a simulated environment; for me, that was the second item crossed off my bucket list. My parents and I had instant facelifts in the vertical wind tunnel; given another opportunity, I would do it again.
The other exclusive feature is the North Star observation pod, which transports you some 90m above the ocean and gives you an awe-inspiring 360° view. The only downside is you need to queue up. We waited two hours to get into the pod, which can hold up to 14 passengers at a time. Was it worth the 10 minutes spent in the sky? Absolutely, if you do not go trigger-happy with your camera (which I found difficult as the view I saw was rather amazing.)
Entertainment on board kept my family busy. We watched StarWater, a theatrical spectacle with special effects and human artistry that left us in awe. There was also Sonic Odyssey, a production inspired by musician William Close which includes a signature Earth Harp, which has strings that run from the stage up to the balcony rail of the ship’s 1,300-seat Royal Theatre.
There is something for everyone, so planning is vital. The Cruise Compass for the next day, which the stateroom attendant leaves at your cabin door the night before, is your guide – don’t lose it!
Find out the timing and location for every activity. There are dance classes, comedy shows, movies of the day, health talks, even sales at high-end stores such as Michael Kors, with items sold at duty-free prices (also the place I broke my piggy bank for), and parties on board.
My favourite party had to be the silent party where you are given headphones with two channels playing different music that you can switch back and forth at your own convenience. Mum and I danced the night away and were also entertained by the amusing moves from some of the guests!
One woman from Barcelona, who was a cruise first-timer, said she brought along her knitting set, hoping to get some embroidery work done. “I have been on the ship for over 40 days now and my set remains untouched!” she remarked.
The Quantum started its 53-night global odyssey cruise from New York that took the ship to the Atlantic Ocean, Mediterranean Sea, Indian Ocean and finally, Shanghai, China, which will be its home base.
In April next year, Royal Caribbean will also be launching Ovation Of The Seas, which is the sister ship of Quantum Of The Seas and it will be heading to Asia in June 2016.
Now, of course, there are non-cruising days where you can take the opportunity to explore the cities the ship docks at. Shore excursions are available and, if you want a hassle-free visit, then it is best to book it through the cruise liner for peace of mind. This is because if you are delayed while on the tours booked with Royal Caribbean, rest assured the ship will not sail off without your safe return.
There are plenty of options to choose from, depending on the kind of tour you want to go on. My parents and I chose the city highlights tour in Ho Chi Minh, Xiamen and Hong Kong. My personal favourite was Hong Kong where I experienced the city via bus, tram and sampan (junk boat).
Before I went on board, a friend told me, “once you go on a cruise, you will be addicted”. I shrugged off his comments at first but nine days on board the Quantum has proven him right. I’ve got the bug.
The writer’s trip was sponsored by Royal Caribbean International. For bookings, contact Gem Travel & Tours (03-7727 4835/ email@example.com).