Cruise International Editor Liz Jarvis experienced Royal Caribbean’s new Smart Ship Quantum of the Seas on a two day inaugural cruise from Southampton. Here she gives her verdict.
Overview: The first thing you see when you approach Quantum of the Seas is the 30ft-high magenta polar bear created by artist Lawrence Argent, and it sets the tone for the rest of the ship. Quantum of the Seas is no ordinary cruise ship, and it feels very different from other Royal Caribbean vessels. The architecture is spectacular and the decor elegant, contemporary and chic. From the inviting open space of the atrium to the SeaPlex, everything has been designed to give a genuine ‘wow’ factor. There are intriguing modern art displays all over the ship (2,980 pieces in total), including a fabulous butterfly wall installation, and the ambience is definitely cool. Royal Caribbean is hoping Quantum of the Seas will appeal to younger cruisers and families and despite its size (it’s the third largest cruise ship in the world, with capacity for 4,905 passengers) Quantum of the Seas is the kind of ship which makes you feel instantly at home, but also as though you’re on board something very special.
Smart Ship: Quantum of the Seas is Royal Caribbean’s first ‘Smart Ship’. The idea is that not only do you have great connectivity but you can also organise your entire cruise online, changing dining options, booking activities and so on, and instead of an hour-long check-in process you should be through in seven minutes. Guests are given a Wow wristband to wear which links to your onboard account as well as your cruise planner. All meal orders are taken by iPad, the idea being that your food will arrive more quickly and hotter because the waiting staff have already sent your order to the kitchen before they leave your table. Unfortunately the wifi was a bit patchy during our two-night cruise from Southampton but this will, we were assured, be sorted out when the ship reaches New York and it has access to the 03b satellite. Royal has promised that this technology will also be available on Quantum’s sister ship Anthem of the Seas when it starts sailing from the UK in 2o15.
Staterooms: Spacious and furnished in cream, navy, brown and turquoise, with walnut-coloured furnishings and glamorous touches including a large mirror. Bathrooms are a good size, as is the TV, which has the usual range of satellite options and on demand movies. There are USB ports so you can charge your mobile devices/laptops even without adaptors. A definite plus. One thing to bear in mind is that some staterooms have restricted views; if you’re planning to spend most of your time out of your stateroom this shouldn’t be a problem, but it might impact on your options for dining (or doing anything else) al fresco on your balcony.
The SeaPlex: One of the most innovative areas of the ship, the SeaPlex, billed as the largest indoor active space at sea, is where you’ll find the much-heralded bumper cars. Outside you’ll find the FlowRider and climbing wall, but the most exciting facility of all has to be the Ripcord by iFly skydiving simulator. Skydiving in a giant tube at sea is a huge adrenalin-rush, and not something you’ll find on any other cruise ship. Expect this to get booked up quickly when you’re on board and make it No 1 on your list of things to do. If you prefer to do something a little more chilled-out, then the Solarium is a great space for relaxing.
The North Star: There is something incredibly thrilling about viewing the ship – and the ocean – 300 feet above sea level. You’re on the North Star a good 10 minutes, giving you ample time to take photos and admire the views, and even if you don’t like heights, you’ll probably be able to handle this as it glides smoothly. The best time to take a flight on the North Star is at sunset, so you’re guaranteed spectacular views.
Onboard entertainment: We saw two shows – Mamma Mia, which is faithful to the West End original; and the spectacular but plotless StarWater at the very chic Two70° venue. For after dark entertainment there’s the Music Hall, where you can see live bands or dance the night away at the disco. It’s not a massive space but it’s adequate and good fun.
The Bionic Bar: For sheer novelty value, the idea of two electronic robots mixing your drinks is never going to get old. You can make your own creations and watch the robots spring into action. Genius.
Onboard dining: This is where Quantum of the Seas really comes into its own, because it’s the first Royal Caribbean ship to embrace the ‘dynamic dining’ concept. There are 18 onboard restaurants and while there are a couple of main dining rooms you certainly don’t have to stick to them, because options like the elegant American Icon Grill, which serves American classics, and Chinese restaurant Silk are also complimentary. There are also Royal Caribbean classics such as Sorrento’s pizza, Johnny Rockets (disappointingly, our burgers were cold, hopefully this is just a teething problem) and the Windjammer buffet.
Of the speciality restaurants, there are Royal Caribbean favourites such as Chop’s Grille, and new ones including of course Jamie’s Italian, a fairly faithful recreation of the land-based Jamie’s Italian restaurants, albeit on a slightly smaller scale. Japanese restaurant Izumi is excellent, and you can watch the chefs preparing your sushi and tempura. But the piece de resistance has to be Wonderland, which offers one of the most unusual dining experiences you’re ever likely to have. Cornelius Gallagher, Director of Culinary Operations at Royal Caribbean has created a very special restaurant where you can choose from creations such as liquid lobster and buffalo pork shank. Eating at Wonderland is a real experience and well worth the $45 cover charge.
Conclusion: Quantum of the Seas is without a doubt one of the most spectacular ocean cruise ships to launch during the past two years, and the combination of innovative and stunning design, technology and state-of-the-art facilities makes it an absolute winner. This really does change everything: a new bar in cruise ship design has been set, and it will be interesting to see how other cruise lines respond to the challenge. Watch this space.