Within minutes of boarding the cruise ship, I was suspended almost 100m in the air in the North Star, a glass observation capsule attached to a rotating crane arm that lifts passengers up into the great blue sky.
I was on Royal Caribbean’s Spectrum of the Seas, all ready to set sail on the Singapore leg of its maiden voyage.
This was a three-night cruise from Singapore to Port Klang in Selangor, and for now, we were docked at Singapore and my transparent pod offered a breathtaking view of the bay.
It was a sunny day, one that brings with it that special kind of heat which makes shapes shimmer and colours melt a little into each other.
There was no time to ponder on illusions, because I was up next for a go at the very exciting RipCord by iFLY skydiving simulator.
And that was how I found myself floating in the air – yet again! – but this time in a flight chamber, with the wind roaring in my ears. It was such a foreign sensation to be in this wind tunnel that I had no idea if I was properly horizontal, as was the aim, or holding myself askew.
I sought comfort in the fact that I was not careening off course and crashing into walls.
Then the instructor, who was beside me at all times, flashed a hand gesture to indicate that I should relax. No conversations to be had in this wind tunnel, as it is just too loud for you to hear anything else above the rush of the wind.
But really, relax? While I’m free-falling, hurling towards Earth? Good thing I was just in a simulator.
It was a thrilling 60 seconds, unlike anything I have experienced before. What little trepidation I had in the beginning ... well, let’s just say it flew out the window, together with my heart that had jumped out of my chest, after this “skydiving” adventure.
I still wouldn’t leap out of a plane, but more of the same on a cruise ship? Sign me up.
Both the North Star and RipCord by iFLY are among the activities offered on Spectrum of the Seas, the first in the Quantum Ultra Class of ships.
Other highlights here are the iconic Sky Pad, which is a virtual reality, bungee-trampoline experience located on the aft of the ship; the 12m FlowRider surfing simulator; and SeaPlex, an indoor sports and entertainment complex. This is where you play table tennis, basketball and pickleball (a kind of like ping-pong-meets-tennis sport), take fencing classes, rediscover your love for bumper cars and take down your enemies at laser tag.
For music and theatre enthusiasts, the evening entertainment starts early and ends late. There was a night where I went for the musical extravaganza Showgirl!, followed by a live music performance featuring well-loved tunes from The Beatles and ended with a silent disco, where people dance to music played on wireless headphones. We could switch back and forth between two different channels, so it was quite a sight to see heads bobbing and arms flailing to different beats.
On another night, I checked out The Silk Road, an original production created by Royal Caribbean exclusively for Two70. By day, this venue is a lounge with oversized windows that offers a stunning sea view. At night, these floor-to-ceiling windows are transformed into a digital canvas thanks to its signature Vistarama technology. The combination of agile Roboscreens – screens that move in sync with music and special effects – digital mapping, visual effects and talented performers made The Silk Road, a vibrant and contemporary retelling of the famous trade route, truly come to life.
Another attraction onboard is the Bionic Bar powered by Makr Shakr, where your drinks are made by bartending robots. Key in your order on a tablet, and then watch mechanical arms get busy, mixing and serving your cocktail. It is quite a novelty, especially when it launches into vigorous shake mode.
Spectrum of the Seas was designed with Asian guests in mind – one assumes the Chinese market in particular, as signs are in both English and Chinese. There is a karaoke venue on board called Star Moment, and those hankering after Chinese cuisine can check out Sichuan Red, which offers food from the province it is named after; and the Leaf & Bean, a traditional tea room and cafe.
There are around 20 restaurants and cafes in total, ranging from buffet-style dining, fancy sit-down dinners to snacks and grab-and-go meals.
Spectrum of the Seas currently homeports in Shanghai, China.
No doubt, there is a long list of what you can see and do while on your cruise.
But when all has been said and done, it is the people that make the experience all the more memorable.
The crew members were efficient, friendly and helpful – which checks all the important boxes. But what stood out were the little details that made all the difference.
My stateroom attendant – who is a housekeeping extraordinaire and an endless source of information on the ship’s comings and goings – exchanged pleasantries with me on the first day. We compared notes on our separate experiences with the cruise’s outdoor activities on the second day, and by the third day, he was enthusiastically waving to me from the other end of the corridor when I turned around the corner.
Royal Caribbean has a tradition of sorts where stateroom attendants fashion quirky animals out of towels, and place them in your room for you to discover after a long day of running around the enormous cruise ship. I came back one night from a whirlwind of theatre shows and battling for the last planet in the galaxy in laser tag, to an elephant with floppy ears, sitting pretty on the bed.
If the cruise were longer, I would have seen more of my stateroom attendant’s towel animal-making skills, which apparently includes monkeys, butterflies, peacocks, crocodiles and some other half dozen creatures big and small.
Spectrum of the Seas accommodates 4,246 guests at double occupancy, and has 1,551 crew members. My experience on the cruise was that it was service not just with a smile, but with a whole lot of heart.
Yes, even when a curious guest hovered around someone who was busy setting up for an afternoon session of laser tag to ask questions like, “What is laser tag? Is it painful? Are your lasers ... real?”
Or the stateroom attendant who greeted an elderly guest with a cheery good afternoon, only to be told firmly that it should be good morning because, “Good afternoon starts only at 2pm.”
It was shortly after 1pm.
Norwegian Captain Charles Teige had mentioned in a chat with fellow journalists on the cruise that he firmly believes a happy crew is what makes a happy ship.
“And here on the high seas, we are all like family,” he emphasised.
It is not hard to imagine that these words, placed in numerous other settings, would ring hollow.
Here, onboard the fabulous Spectrum of the Seas, you bask in the warm glow of fun-filled days and carefree nights – and you know it would be really easy to believe, if only for a moment, if he were to say that you are family, too.