As you may have gathered from an old post of mine, “Why a Cruise Should Be Your Next Vacation,” WE LOVE CRUISING!! Naturally, when hubby and I were deciding where to go on our honeymoon around the world, we knew that we wanted to cruise part of it.
This post will explore the next leg of our honeymoon on the Royal Caribbean Ovation of the Seas 6-night repositioning cruise through Asia. We began in Tianjin, China, the closest port to Beijing, spent two days at port in Okinawa, Japan, and ended in Hong Kong. We’ll discuss what a repositioning cruise is, the three ports of call, the service on the ship, and the ship itself. All aboard!
There are two kinds of cruises: traditional (or round-trip) and repositioning. A traditional cruise takes you from point A to B and back to A, so you start and end in the same port. A repositioning cruise moves you from point A to B, which allows you to start and end in different ports. If you are lucky enough to have your hometown also be a port of call, then you most likely would do traditional cruises to avoid paying extra airfare.
However, I think there is a time and place to consider a repositioning cruise. If you are adding a cruise onto a vacation like us, then a repositioning cruise may be a good idea! We needed to get from north China (Beijing) towards Thailand, and we had two options: pay for airfare or pay for a cruise. We looked up cruises and found the perfect option that gave us six nights of adventure, plus we had the opportunity to stop into Okinawa, Japan, and end in Hong Kong. For the price, it was a no-brainer. For the minimal day fee, we basically paid for hotel, food, and entertainment on the ship and completely avoided travel costs!
Tianjin, China: As far as travel goes, it takes a couple of trains and a taxi to get from Beijing proper to Tianjin, but it wasn’t too difficult or costly. RCL, other cruise lines, and tour groups offer shuttle services, but they can be costly and then you are on their schedule. We did it on our own, and even with the language barrier we got by without any issues. We were really impressed by the immaculate gardens in Beijing and the last long stretch of street leading to the cruise port was no exception. The port was located in an industrial area with nothing else around for miles, so the tree and flower lined streets helped to soften the look. The lines to get on the ship were insanely long. Not sure if RCL didn’t have enough people working that day, or if all the cruisers just showed up at the same time, but we waited hours standing in line to get on the ship. It was not the best first impression. Read my Beijing Part One and Part Two blog posts if you are interested in learning more on what Beijing has to offer. Some excursions at this port include Great Wall tours with lunch and shopping, followed by transportation to either the airport or to your hotel.
Okinawa, Japan: The cruise was originally supposed to stop in Jeju Island, South Korea, as well as Okinawa, Japan. Unfortunately, RCL pulled Korea off of our itinerary the day after President Trump’s infamous “fire and fury” threat to the leader of North Korea. Totally speculation if both incidents were related, but it was curious timing. RCL ended up giving us two full days in Okinawa instead, with an overnight at port to make up for the change. That was really awesome, because they could have just kept us at sea for that day. There was plenty to do in Okinawa, so my next Amarvelous Honeymoon blog post will be on how to spend two days in Okinawa, Japan. Stay tuned! For now, I’ll just explain the port. The ships are a bus-ride away from town and shopping. There is literally nothing near the ship except other ships. RCL and other cruise lines coordinate charter buses to shuttle everyone into town and back. The system is easy enough—just make sure to get back on the right bus. Some excursions at this port include Shuri Castle, Gyokusendo Cave, Churaumi Aquarium, and Nami-no-ue Sea and Sky Snorkeling Park.
Hong Kong: What a beautiful port!! Pulling in was so picturesque. You have a view of this futuristic customs building with a green roof, the city behind it, and mountains behind that. Total “WOW, welcome to Hong Kong” moment as we pulled into port. Since there is no train right at the cruise terminal, we took a bus to the train station. From there, we took a train towards the area where our hotel was located. Some exciting excursions at this port include Disneyland, the evening light show at Victoria Peak, dim sum culinary classes, and iconic junk boat tours. Just like Okinawa, we’re going to dedicate a post to Hong Kong—stay tuned for that one too!
Ship Overview: Ovation of the Seas is part of RCL’s Quantum-class. It made its maiden voyage on April 17, 2016, so the ship is still pretty new, and it shows! There are eighteen decks (sixteen are passenger-accessible). Maximum occupancy of the ship is 4,905 passenger-guests and 1,500 crew.
Art and Decor: Something we’ve observed on Carnival ships is how cheesy the decor can be. RCL’s Ovation of the Seas, however, was really nicely decorated. Maybe it’s because the ship is only a few years old, or maybe it’s because of the modern artwork around every turn. The color scheme and modern touch in the staterooms was appealing too.
Our Room: Our room was absolutely wonderful. This was our first time ever in a balcony room. We actually went from interior rooms straight to balcony and skipped window rooms, so we felt totally spoiled for our honeymoon and don’t feel like we could ever go back to a non-balcony room haha! It was nice tanning, watching the sunset, and having coffee in a robe from the privacy of your own room and balcony. Our favorite part, though, was keeping the door ajar and listening to the waves while we slept. Talk about peaceful. The room was so spacious too. We had a bathroom, king-sized bed, sofa, and desk. Not a complaint as much as an observation, but we really didn’t need that much space—I actually wish the ship was designed with smaller rooms and deeper balconies so that we could have laid flat on lounge chairs without tanning obstructions (shadows) from the railing.
Service: Before we left for our trip, RCL had sent us several emails to explain that this cruise was going to be “under the Culturally Enriching program.” At the time, I didn’t know what they meant. I get a lot of emails from RCL with random sales offers, so when receiving emails from this sender, and not asked to log in and do anything with my reservation, it just seemed like more junk mail. In hindsight, I see now they were trying to prepare the Westerners for the culture shock.
We did have an incident with someone trying to break into our luggage before it got to our room on day one. We dropped off our bags at the Tianjin port curbside, and by the time they were delivered to our room the lock had been busted on one of them. We waited in the Guest Services line for a long time to put in a complaint with security and file a full report. Unfortunately, there are no cameras at the Tianjin port, so there was no way to see who did it. Security on-board was nice, but our first day was awful due to this experience, and our brand new luggage that we received as a wedding gift was ruined.
The stateroom housekeeping was on point! We brought several branded “bride” and “groom” items (like sunglasses) on the honeymoon. Housekeeping dressed our towel animals with them daily, which was both clever and cute. Sometimes it’s in the small details that the guests can be wowed.
Dining: We found the dining to be underwhelming while onboard, but it wasn’t for lack of built-in restaurants or dining halls. In fact, the ship has six main dining areas (American Icon Grill, Chic, Silk, The Grande, Solarium Bistro, and Coastal Kitchen). It has six signature restaurants (Wonderland Imaginative Cuisine, Jamie’s Italian, Amber & Oak Pub, Chops Grille, Izumi Japanese Cuisine, and Chef’s Table). It also has eight laid back dining options (Windjammer Marketplace, The Café @ Two70, Seaplex Dog House, Kung Fu Panda Noodle Shop, Sorrento’s, Café Promenade, La Patisserie, and Vintages).
The problems we experienced were that RCL did not have every dining area open, they had limited hours, the restaurants for extra purchase were totally booked up, and everywhere else on the ship served the same food. Literally all four of the main dining restaurants served the exact same menu every night. So you weren’t going to American Icon Grill because you wanted American cuisine and Silk because you wanted Asian cuisine. The only reason you would have to choose one restaurant over another was because of ambiance. It was basically authentic Asian food everywhere you turned. Nothing against Asian food—but our dining experiences on cruise ships usually offer us incredible variety. There are often so many good options on a menu that we don’t know what to pick. However, on this cruise, there were some nights when we sat down for dinner and couldn’t even find one thing that we wanted.
Unfortunately, by the time we realized how terrible the food would be, all the extra cost restaurants were totally booked, and we had no other options. I will admit that we have never felt the need to pay extra to experience excellent food on a cruise ship. Usually, for the cost you pay to be on the boat, you eat like kings. I would recommend if you are interested in dining at one of the more exclusive pay-as-you-go restaurants, that you book before you get on the ship.
We met a few Australians on the ship, and they all complained about the food too. One “Diamond Plus” couple had been on the maiden voyage of Ovation and said that the experiences were night and day. As first-time RCL customers, we explained how surprised we had been with RCL’s low standards, and the couple urged us to give RCL another chance (in another part of the world). So perhaps the food situation is better when they sail through other regions?
We connected with the dining manager in one of the restaurants. I guess he had received many complaints from the Western guests. He told us if we were unsatisfied with the options, that we could put in a request for something. That night, we ordered steak (not on the menu), and he made it happen. Service was very good, and you could tell that they were trying to appease all parties. I still feel like there shouldn’t have been any moments when I felt hungry and unsatisfied, but I am definitely open to give them an opportunity to redeem themselves.
The food section is very important to me because it was the most negative aspect of the trip, so I’ll end it with a closing comparison. We both thought the food at the buffet was tastier and more variety than the offerings in the dining rooms. It’s definitely the opposite on other cruise lines. If comparing all other Carnival Cruise Line dining experiences we’ve had to this experience on RCL’s Ovation, we feel the dining rooms in Carnival are superior.
Included Activities: Below, I have outlined all of the free activities onboard the Ovation of the Seas. Something that irked me a bit was that a few of the BEST activities this ship has to offer were at an additional fee specifically when this ship is sailing in China (which we were). Not sure what that rubbish is about! We already paid a bunch to be on the boat in our balcony room… no way was I going to drop several hundred more on a few activities when the ship was loaded with other free things to do. And I am not exaggerating when I say hundreds. They wanted $600 for FlowRider®!!
Each night, an itinerary for the next day is delivered to your room. Some of the activities are reserved for special themes or party nights, while others are offered daily. Nevertheless, there is something for everyone, and I did feel that there were more offerings than on other ships. The only downfall on activities would be that while they tried to make the vacation inclusive to the Asian community, some activities were not listed as “Mandarin language only” (like other activities were) and I would show up to participate but they did not have an English translator for me. So I would just leave and go do a different activity. It would have saved me from walking from one side of the ship to the other, and not being late to the next activity, had I known in advance, but it was a minor inconvenience compared to other things.
- North Star® 360º elevated view above the boat (Fees apply to China sailings)
- FlowRider® surfing (Fees apply to China sailings) – In other regions, this activity is included but private session fees are: $69, $345, or $552
- Ripcord® by iFLY® skydiving simulation experience (Fees apply to China sailings)
- Adventure Ocean® children’s activity and babysitting program (After 10:00pm: $7/hour)
- Splashaway Bay℠ waterpark
- Rock climbing wall
- SeaPlex – from skating rink to circus school to bumper cars, this is the largest sporting activity zone on the seas
- Solarium adults only pool lounge with an incredible view at the front of the ship
- Silent Disco party where everyone wears headphones and can tune in to the station they want to dance to
- Fitness center
- Running track, sports courts, table tennis, pool tables
- Outdoor movie nights
- Nightlife, Karaoke, Salsa dancing
- Pools, Jacuzzis
- Dance classes, Learn a language class, Towel folding class, Origami class, Scrapbooking class, Guest lectures, Wine tastings
Shows: Holy smokes, the shows were incredible!! The second we got on the ship, we received great advice from a crew member that we should reserve show tickets ASAP if we were interested. We went straight to the guest services counter and locked that down. Some theatres in the ship are large, but others are small and sell out. There were two shows in particular that required pre-reservation. We’re glad we didn’t miss out.
- Live. Love. Legs. (Reservation Required)
- Pixels (Reservation Required)
- Original theatrical productions
- Live bands
- Game shows
- Two70® lounge with daily and nightly entertainment
At-Cost Activities: And, of course, there are some more exclusive activities where you can pay to play. I am more a BINGO person myself, but (unless I missed it) this ship didn’t offer it. Sure, it would be fun to see behind the scenes, have a spa treatment, or win big in the casino, but don’t feel like you have to pay to enjoy yourself. Notice the disparity in pay for activities to free activities. There is so much to do onboard!
- Sushi-making class
- All-access tours
One thing Hubby and I each felt this RCL ship was missing:
Hubby: Hubby really enjoys the dining model where you sit with the same people every night, in the same dining room, at the same mealtime. RCL seems to be more freestyle and lets you go where you please. They also tend to only seat you with your party. So this party of two on our honeymoon sat alone for every meal. Yes, it’s our honeymoon, but we were vacationing for six weeks! It’s also nice to have a conversation with other people every now and then. We found ourselves talking across the table to folks that sat next to us almost every night haha. I’m sure freestyle is great for some people, but not us. We like the structure of knowing when to eat and where to go. We also enjoy meeting new people and hearing how they spent their day and what they enjoyed on land and at sea. On past cruises, we’ve even connected with our table buddies on social media and have remained in touch.
Me: I was really looking forward to laundry facilities. Who does laundry on vacation?? Haha THIS GIRL, when she’s on a six-week honeymoon around the world! We had avoided doing laundry on land, because we figured (incorrectly) that it was available on the ship, like Carnival Cruise Line offers. Ovation didn’t offer this DIY facility, so we had to pay A LOT to have housekeeping launder all our clothes. I should have looked this up in advance, but I just assumed it was like all other ships we’d been on. Since then, I’ve heard from friends and family that other RCL ships also don’t offer a laundry room.
One thing Hubby and I each loved on this RCL ship was:
Hubby: The shows! Quality, effects, lighting, props, and talent were all superior to other cruises. It was also impressive some shows were bilingual and inclusive of multiple languages. The cast was so talented. For a special performance, RCL brought onboard a group that was locally famous, and they were incredible. Special mention: Almost equally as important as the shows were the Belgian waffles with strawberry topping mmmmm. Actually, all breakfast options and the self-serve buffet-style restaurants were generally pretty good on this ship.
Me: Cruise ships often have photographers out each night so you can take photos dressed up before dinner. Most of the time, photographers are stationed in front of cheesy backdrops, which RCL does have, but they also have roaming photographers that take pictures in front of nice areas in the ship. If you like a particular fountain, then the photographer can shoot you there, for example. Hey, if you have a nice-looking ship, flaunt it! Only a ship that is attractive could afford to do this.
This “Culturally Enriching” cruise through Asia didn’t turn out exactly how we envisioned our first Royal Caribbean Cruise to be, but we still had a good time and love cruising. The staff on board alleviated the tensions by listening to what was making guests (usually fellow Westerners) unsatisfied and making accommodations. We were blown away by the ship itself, the entertainment, and the balcony stateroom. Even though the food was overall underwhelming, some dining options were still good. Everyone I know raves over RCL cruises. I can’t say that our first experience was how our friends say that theirs was, but I am really excited to cruise with Royal Caribbean again—just maybe not through Asia next time!
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