Cruise ships are getting bigger and for the fans of large ships Ovation of the Seas will not disappoint. At 168,000 gross tonnes this is the latest member of Royal Caribbean’s “Quantum Class”, currently the second largest cruise ships in the world. 18 decks high, 136 feet wide and 1,136 feet long, conveying over 4,900 passengers and a crew of over 1,600 in comfort all over the world. Those are the statistics but what’s it really like to travel as a passenger on this large ship.
Cabin 6226, or stateroom as they are now called, is an obstructed view balcony on deck 6 and the obstruction it has to be said is minimal. Whilst a lifeboat is situated some distance away the view across the ocean is not obstructed and it’s excellent for sunbathing, the 55 sq. ft. balcony area is large enough for a table, two fully reclining chairs and foot stools. The cabin is a large 198 sq. ft., storage space above the bed large enough to accommodate suitcases, 3 seater settee, large flat screen interactive television, fridge, tea making facilities, hair dryer and 2 USB points to charge phones, tablets and laptops make this more than acceptable. An ample sized bathroom with large semi-circle glass shower cabinet means no more dancing with the shower curtain.
Quantum class is a totally new concept in cruising and for many it’s the future. Eat where you want and when you want applies to all the dining venues on board, all 18 of them. Some are complimentary, some, the ‘Signature’ restaurants, have a cover charge. The main complimentary restaurants, Chic, American Icon Grill, Le Grande and Silk are currently bookable as traditional dining, rotating around them with the same wait staff. Dress code is casual with the exception of Le Grande where ‘Formal’ is required although sports shirts and slacks appear acceptable. ‘Signature’ restaurants are about personal choice. Chops Grill and Japanese Izumi are Royal Caribbean traditions but ‘Wonderland’ is part of the new concept. Enter the ‘Rabbit Hole’ and arrive in the ‘World of Alice’ a magnificently appointed restaurant. Paint water onto the empty picture frame at your table and the menu appears, a menu with a difference, each course, based on elements, Sun, Ice, Fire, Sea, Earth and Dreams with 4 items to each element are a fusion of colours and tastes. A delight for all ages. Jamie’s Italian set in bistro style with pastas, grilles, soups and salads in typical classic Italian style specially developed for the ship by Chef Jamie Oliver. If there iss any complaint about the food it is simply that the portions are too big for me, so hardly a complaint but rather a recommendation for others.
The entertainment on this ship is second to none. The Royal Theatre has seating for 1,300 with excellent sight lines from virtually anywhere. The show Live, Love, Legs”, a collection of incredible aerial acrobatics, superb vocal performances, featuring lavish costumes, with a dedicated group of international artists. This all-new production will have audiences singing its praises for a long time to come. The Two70 lounge is where the spectacular Spectra’s Cabaret is performed featuring the Maestro Spectra and his Agents of Rhythm as they perform to the audience an electric, multi-dimensional cabaret that takes entertainment to a new level. The saxophonist and drummer look as if they are miming but they aren’t, a delight to watch. This show of dance, aerialists and musicians complemented by video and digital scenery makes it one of the most spectacular shows at sea. The Music Hall is a smaller 2 tier theatre featuring bands, groups and other forms of entertainment, the lounges of which there are many all offer entertainment in one form or another, there is something for everyone.
The Royal Esplanade on deck 4 is graced by shops with world quality names, Cartier, Bulgari, Swarovski Crystal, Prince and Greene and many more selling their famous goods. Deck 4 is also home to Michaels Pub, Boleros Lounge, Sorrento’s café for tea, cake, pizza, the Diamond Lounge and Guest Services, an area equipped with tablets so rather than waiting for a place at the desk you use one of the tablets to get the answer to your question. The area never appears crowded despite the large number of passengers this ship carries.
Deck 15 is the main sunbathing deck and home to the North Star, an observation capsule that takes you to more than 300 feet above the ocean providing breathtaking panoramic views. The tradition of a large animal on Deck 15 is continued in the guise of a large ‘Baby’ Panda looking up to its even larger mother who is reaching down from the deck above. Yet to be named, but a reminder that the ship is heading for China.
For relaxation the Solarium, with its water falls, pools, palm trees and comfortable loungers and Jacuzzis has its own bar. An area accessed from here is an open air viewing platform that extends out from the ship above the bridge area giving the same views as seen from the bridge wings an area that proves popular when entering and leaving ports.
Boarding the ship in Barcelona the first day is spent at sea as we glide across the Mediterranean to our first port of call, Naples. Whilst this city has much to offer it is the scenery of the Amalfi Coast, a stretch of coastline on the southern coast of the Sorrentine Peninsula south of the city that is spectacular. The coastal road along this coastline is famous for its hairpin bends and fantastic views when winding along the cliffs, affording glimpses of blue sea and beaches directly below. Many of the towns buildings, including hotels, are only accessible by steep alleys and stairways. Our air conditioned coach takes us to our first stop, Positano a town dating back to the 16th and 17th centuries. Walking through narrow streets and corridors overhung by vines and trees affording shelter from the strong sun, down steps and around a corner to emerge on the esplanade where boats are pulled onto the soft sand beach. Tranquility, time to sit in the sun and dream before moving on to the lunchtime stop of Amalfi. Narrow streets of shops, cafes and restaurants all busy with tourists enjoying this fabulous little town bathed in warm sunshine. A must see is the majestic Amalfi Cathedral, the Duomo di Sant’Andrea Apostolo built in the 9th century, climb the sixty two steep steps to the magnificent cathedral doors cast in bronze. The front facade was rebuilt of striped marble and stone in 1891 after the original one collapsed. Finally, onto our last stop, the village in the mountains, Villa Rufolo affording breathtaking views of the surrounding coast line as the sun begins dropping into the western sky. Too soon it is back on the ship and the end of our first port of call.
The following day, Civitavecchia, the cruise and ferry port for Rome, and Rome is where most people head for but in doing so miss the delights of this old Italian city whose history can be traced back to the 2nd century. The sea walk giving magnificent views across the harbour, the Church of the Holy Japanese Martyrs built in the 1800’s with beautiful paintings adorning the 6 side altars, Forte Michelangelo with the upper part of the Maschio Tower, designed by Michelangelo, travel to the north of the city to Finconcell where you find the Terme Taurine Baths used by the Romans and still used by the people of Civitavecchia. Shops selling goods at normal Italian prices, this is a town I have visited many times and never tire of.
Now is a day of relaxation as we circumnavigate the Italian coast, pass through the Straits of Messina and sail east to the city of of Piraeus, the port for Athens. From here catch a tour to the Parthenon, Acropolis, Delphi, Corinth and the Corinth Canal, the list is endless. See the Corinth Canal, the high sides making it look narrower and leaves you wondering, how do they get ships through there!! Old Corinth, an archaeological site where the remaining pillars of the Temple of Apollo dominate the area. The adjacent museum contains artifacts discovered on the excavation of the area. It is from here St Paul is said to have read his letter to the Corinthians.
Two days later is the highlight of the voyage, transiting the Suez Canal. Proceeding in convoy we enter the narrow channel connecting the Mediterranean Sea with the Gulf of Suez. Passing villages, small towns, ferry crossings and miles upon miles of desert interspersed by the occasional oasis where the terrain is so flat the horizon is a heat haze. People waiving from trains that trundle along the track from Port Said in the north to Suez City in the south, lorries and cars honking hooters as this massive ship makes its way majestically along this artificial waterway, a transit I would personally do again tomorrow should the opportunity arise. Later in the day we pass Suez City set against a backdrop of the setting sun and enter the Gulf of Suez leading us into the Gulf of Aqaba, passed Saudi Arabia to the port of Aqaba where you gaze out upon Israel and Egypt. Sitting at a beach bar protected from the hot sun by its thatched roof and sipping a cool drink you could be forgiven in thinking that this was your destiny. That evening we leave Aqaba, the final port of call on this epic journey from Barcelona to Dubai arriving 6 days later having travelled over 6,000 miles, across 2 seas, a canal and 3 gulfs before entering the Persian Gulf and the sky scraper city of Dubai where we say goodbye to Ovation as she makes her way to Singapore and Shanghai for summer and then Sydney for their summer.
This has been a journey to remember for all the right reasons. A new ship, one of the most advanced in the world. A choice of food to satisfy the most discerning diner, spectacular shows and entertainment, an itinerary covering the old and the new, beauty and ruggedness, excitement and relaxation. China and Australia, you are getting a beautiful ship.