Taking a cruise has always been on my bucket list, albeit an item that is ranked pretty far down the list — maybe after I’ve conquered Europe, America and perhaps Africa.
Having gotten married recently, and with no honeymoon destination realistically achievable at the present moment (travel bubble, anyone?), the next best thing would be go on a cruise.. to nowhere. On several friends’ recommendations, we opted for Royal Caribbean’s Quantum of the Seas (QotS) cruise. Apart from QotS, the only other cruise that is currently allowed to operate cruises to nowhere from Singapore is the World Dream by Dream Cruises.
A week from our wedding in March, we felt a little bit of ennui and headed over to Royal Caribbean’s website hoping to relieve some of that. On the website, what caught our eye, of course, was the notice “50% off all cruises!”, followed by a countdown timer warning us that we would miss this offer of a lifetime if we did not book within the next 3 days.
Not wanting to miss out, we quickly did some quick research (Milelion’s article on QotS is rather comprehensive and definitely worth a read) and proceeded to book our 4 day, 3 night cruise in a Ocean View Balcony Stateroom for a little over S$600. For those not familiar with cruise jargon, a ‘stateroom’ is pretty much the sea equivalent of a hotel room. There are three main types of non-suite rooms — interior room, ocean view room, and ocean view balcony. We opted for the ocean view balcony just so we could get a breath of fresh air every now and then, and also as a form of insurance in the event we were to be locked down a la Diamond Princess.
Navigating the website and making payment was quite a breeze, though knowing what to do next was a challenge given there really isn’t a lot of information available online.
Basically, in the period between your booking and cruise dates, here are the things you should do:
- Be sure to renew your passport if required. While it’s a cruise to nowhere, you’ll still be leaving Singapore waters so you will need to present your passport.
- Download the Royal Caribbean app, sign up for an account and link your cruise to your account (if not done so automatically), and then complete the identity verification checks.
- Approximately two months before your cruise, you will be prompted to check in to your cruise via email. It’s advisable to do so immediately once you receive the email, as this is also the time when you can book your ‘wellness check’ — which is equivalent to time you can board the ship — and the early timeslots fill up pretty quickly. Unless your schedule otherwise prohibits, my suggestion would be to choose the earliest timeslot available (this should be 2pm; if you see only later timeslots available it means that the early timeslots have been snapped up) as most of the activities on the cruise can only be booked when you are onboard the ship itself and the slots get filled up pretty quickly especially with the current restrictions in place.
- Every two weeks or so, you should receive an email offering percentage discounts off certain packages. Some packages that you may consider under discount would be:
- VOOM internet access. We got the Surf+Stream package for two devices (which can be shared across two persons) at S$116.24 for three nights. It appears that the price may have increased from the promotional rates that people were offered earlier this year.
- Unlimited dining package. We paid S$130.56 per pax for this on offer and slots under this promotion are really limited (the non promotional price is upwards of S$250). We found this really worth the money.
- Unlimited beverage package (alcoholic and non-alcoholic options available). We didn’t opt for this.
- If you miss out on the offers, look out for the next one — from our experience, the last available offer we got was approximately two weeks before the cruise.
- About three weeks to the cruise date, you will be allowed to select your swab test dates. You can choose to swab one or two days before the test and the test results should be available at midnight of the next day. The swab test, for me, involved a single swab going deep into both nostrils. Not the most pleasant of experiences…
- About two weeks to the cruise date, you will also get an option to upgrade your room (subject to availability) via a bid system. Basically, there will be a minimum bid for each upgrade and you can bid whatever price you want for a room upgrade. The room upgrades will be awarded to the highest bidders first. We bid for a suite upgrade but didn’t manage to get it. The bid results will be made available up to 24 hours before your cruise. If you’ve already secured your VOOM package (which comes free with certain suite classes), you should be able to refund it before you board the cruise.
- One day before the cruise, you will be able to access the ‘safety video’ from the Royal Caribbean app. While you can watch it onboard the cruise, to save time, I recommend that you watch it before you board the cruise. The safety video is a couple minutes long and cannot be skipped or paused (you would have to start over again).
- Lastly, you can buy travel insurance from a number of providers which cover Cruises to Nowhere. We bought ours from Starr Insurance Company. While Royal Caribbean provides a refund guarantee for certain COVID-19 related reasons, it would still be good to have travel insurance in the event of any medical emergency, lost baggage or in the (unlikely?) event that Royal Caribbean goes bankrupt.
A Note on ‘Possible Exposures’
About a week before our cruise, owing to a recent rise in community cases, the Singapore government announced a series of measures that effectively brought us back to Phase 2. In response to this, Royal Caribbean went one step further and unilaterally issued an email advisory informing that it would deny boarding to any passenger who has a ‘potential exposure’ reflected on his or her TraceTogether (TT) app.
This opened up a can of worms–wasn’t TT data supposed to be private? And then, although the prevailing advisory is to monitor your health for the next 14 days, the possible exposure list may not reset exactly 14 days later. This would probably also have the unintended consequence of people ‘cheating’ the TraceTogether system (e.g. checking out immediately after checking in and disabling Bluetooth) to avoid the places they’ve been to as being reflected as a ‘possible exposure’.
For myself, I had a possible exposure that would be 15 days old at the time of my cruise–which would have put me in a weird situation as I would not had no idea whether my exposure would continue to be reflected on the cruise date itself notwithstanding that more than 14 days have passed.
Apparently, apart from Royal Caribbean, ComfortDelGro Driving School and Dream Cruises also implemented the same policy barring people with possible exposures from entering their premises/ cruise ships. Thankfully, and with the persistence of certain Straits Times journalists who took umbrage at this issue, the government issued a press release the very next day to emphasise that the ‘possible exposure’ list was for personal reference only and ‘should’ not form the basis of allowing or denying entry to one’s premises. By the following day (two days before my cruise, no less), Royal Caribbean had walked back on this policy and in another email advisory, merely ‘strongly encouraged’ travellers to check their TraceTogether app for possible exposures and consider postponing their trip if they have any possible exposures flagged.
The frustrating thing about this whole experience was that there was no one I could turn to for answers regarding my situation (e.g. having a possible exposure still flagged despite 14 days having lapsed). The people manning the Royal Caribbean hotline are not based in Singapore and have no idea as to the intracacies of this policy. I subsequently dropped a direct email (after some digging on Google) to the person who signed off on the email advisory, as well as the main email contact, but only received an email reply on the second day of my cruise.
For what it’s worth, on the actual day itself, I still had the potential exposure flagged in my TT app, and was still asked if I had any possible exposures flagged on the app. I told the person yes, but it was more than 14 days ago, and he proceeded to give me the go-ahead. Not too sure what would be the case if I had a more recent possible exposure.
Day 1: Boarding Day
On Boarding Day, I reached the
airport Marina Bay Cruise Centre at 1.45pm. By then, there was already a sizeable queue for the 2pm check-in timing. If I were to do it all over again, I would probably try to reach by 1.30pm instead. The queue to check-in is outside the cruise centre itself and gets unbearably hot. There are also no toilets so be sure to void your bladder before you reach.
Remember to bring your passport!
The queue got cleared pretty quickly, though. You just have to get your temperature scanned a couple of times, scan a couple of QR codes, collect your blue ‘Tracelet’ (Royal Caribbean’s version of the TraceTogether token in smartwatch form — do note that it’s not water resistant), get your luggage X-rayed, scan your passport and off you go. You can lug your luggage (I brought a medium-sized luggage, probably a little overkill for a 4d3n trip) along with you; there’s no need to check-in any luggage unless you want to (in which case the luggage will only be sent to you at night).
Once aboard the ship (note: Deck 5 is the boarding deck), we were a little confused as to what to do next. As we later found out, the correct, most efficient procedure would be to:
- Connect to the Royal Caribbean Wi-Fi and connect to the internet if you have a Voom package (the setup process is quite straightforward and there are guides around to guide you in case you’re unsure)
- Go up to your stateroom and deposit your luggage. Your SeaPass card will be placed in an envelope next to the door and you will use this to unlock the door and also serves the function of an onboard credit card. The SeaPass card has your name on it, so there’s no worry that you will mix it up.
- Report to your ‘muster bay’ on Deck 5 (i.e. the boarding deck) and inform that you have completed the safety video etc. so that they can do a proper check-in for you. My muster bay was on Deck 5 right below my room; not too sure about the other rooms but there are many staff walking around so just ask for directions.
- Go to the Royal Caribbean app and book all the activities you want. On our trip, we were only allowed to select one of the three shows due to limited seating capacity as a result of the new Phase 2 restrictions. If you want to watch ‘Sequins and Feathers’ or ‘A Magic Show by Zlwin Chew’, choose ‘Theater Reservations’ or something and select your designated timeslot (depending on the timeslot, you will be watching either of the two shows. Read the description to see which show you’re gonna get). On the other hand, ‘Starwater’ is reflected as a separate item in the app.
Despite this, booking a ‘Theater Reservation’ and the ‘Starwater’ show is mutually exclusive and you can only choose between the two. Perhaps it would be good to read up beforehand as to the show you prefer, as it’s really difficult to change your reservation thereafter as slots are taken up really quickly.
Given that the COVID-19 safety measures are even more restrictive at present, it is even more pertinent to book your slots as early as possible.
- If you have the Unlimited Dining Package, you can also head over to the counter on Level 5 to make your bookings. You can technically do so on the app as well, but for some reason many of the timeslots weren’t available for us on the app. We got really kiasu and booked both lunches and dinners at the specialty restaurants to get our money’s worth. If you’d like and have a huge appetite, you can even book two restaurants at back-to-back timings.
Do note that we went the week before Phase 2 (Heightened Alert) measures kicked in, so we were still allowed to dine-in. Apparently, for cruises taking place during the P2HA period, no dine-in would be allowed.
- If you encounter any issues, the Guest Services at Level 5 will be able to attend to your various queries.
Once we were done with the above, we immediately went to check out Deck 15, which is where the SeaPlex indoor entertainment centre and outdoor areas are.
The bumper cars (app booking required) and rock wall (first come first served basis) were not opened yet, so we went for the FlowRider. You can’t make a booking for the FlowRider, so I would encourage you to go on the first day when most people are still settling in.
The aim of the FlowRider is to stand up on the surf board and ride the wave. You’re given two tries to stand up, and I failed on both attempts and got pushed to the back wall each time. It’s a soft landing, however, given that the FlowRider is essentially a huge inflatable pool.
Next, we headed to the indoor pool area on Deck 14. Towels are provided, though you’ll need to return them. Remember to take out your Tracelet before going in! The whirlpool was a little too warm for our liking.
Then, we went over to the SeaPlex for our bumper car session, which you need to make a booking beforehand in the app. It was fun and I would’ve liked to go for another session, although we weren’t able to fit this in our schedule over the next few days (and the slots were fully booked, anyway). So, go on the first day if you can.
The highlight of Day 1 was our dinner at Wonderland, courtesy of our Unlimited Dining Package. Basically, the menu at Wonderland is printed in ‘invisible ink’, which you then have you use a paintbrush to uncover the wordings.
Given the many options, we were kinda at a loss as to what to choose. Thankfully, the waiter told us that we just needed to pick a main course and he’ll decide the rest for us. If you have any food allergies or dietary restrictions, now’s the time to voice out, too.
It was a wonderful and very filling meal. The whole meal took about 2 hours but it didn’t seem that long because of the many courses.
After dinner, we walked around Deck 4, where all the shops were. Everything is in USD and all purchases would be charged to your SeaPass card (which, if pre-linked to a credit card, would mean that your purchases would be eventually charged to your credit card. Otherwise, you can choose to open a ‘cash account’ which is capped at US$300 and have to settle payment at guest services before the last day).
At this point (around 8pm), the ship had already left Singapore, a fact that we only realised after going up to Deck 14, where they were screening a movie on the big screen.
However, the casino would only open at 10.15pm, which was preceded by an introductory session at 9.30pm where you could come in and understand more about the games available. Each SeaPass account is also given a credit of US$2 which you can use at the slot machines. You can also redeem an extra US$2 (apparently, this goes up to US$100 if you are lucky enough). My beginner’s luck yielded me US$20 out of the initial US$4, although we proceeded to lose US$120 over the next three days…
Bring USD if you want to gamble. There are ATMs available and you can apparently use your SeaPass card, but there is a hefty surcharge.
Also, before you go back to your stateroom each night, be sure to swing by the Guest Services area on Deck 5 to get a copy of the Cruise Planner for the next day, which is a newsletter that informs you of the next day’s schedule and activities.
There’s no specialty restaurant available for breakfast, so we headed to Windjammer on Deck 14, which serves buffet-style breakfast.
It has a really amazing view in the morning, and a wonderful place to dine provided you don’t sit directly where the sun shines. The buffet spread was decent and similar to that of a hotel breakfast, except there aren’t many Asian selections available. I had omelettes, sausages, bacon, yoghurt and pancakes. Yummy.
Then we went to queue for the rock climbing wall. There was about a 20 minute wait under the unbearably hot sun.
I climbed a bit of distance but gave up soon after due to a fear of heights. Many got to reach the top and ring the bell, however.
Near the rock wall you’ll also find the iFly machine, which we didn’t try as it’s a paid activity on Singapore sails.
Then, we changed into our swimwear and checked out the outdoor pool. There were lots of people gathered at the pool area and we had to wait for our turn. Each group is allocated about 10 minutes in the pool due to safe distancing measures.
The outdoor pool area also had whirlpools (once again, too hot for our liking) and sun-tanning beds where you can enjoy the vastness of… nowhere.
Lunch was had at Jamie’s Italian, another specialty dining restaurant. Can’t remember the name of the exact dishes, but the garlic bread, grilled squid, seafood pasta and chicken were memorably good.
Dessert-wise, the sorbet (which comes in mango, lime and raspberry) was good too.
After lunch, we were itching to gamble and headed down to the casino to play the coin pusher machine, electronic slot machines and Sic Bo. I think we got quite lucky at first, which made us keep wanting to go back thereafter (where we subsequently lost)!
Before we got too carried away, we realised we had a booking for Zlwin Chew’s magic show.
I thought his antics were a little too… over-the-top and his delivery a little too over-enthusiastic at first, but at the end of it it was a good show. Still, wished we could have watched all of the three shows on deck, but that was unfortunately not possible due to the current COVID-19 restrictions in place.
We had dinner at Chop’s Grille, which was located on Deck 5, in a corner opposite Wonderland. Food was great, but the portions were humongous.
The appetisers were a huge slab of pork belly (big enough to be a main course in itself) and… something else I don’t quite remember. I chose a ribeye steak for my main course which was the largest I’ve ever seen in my life, at a whopping 16 ounces (I didn’t think much of it, until I realised it was equivalent to 450 grams). The waiter commented that I’d ordered half a cow. For dessert, we had mango sorbet to cleanse the palate and some cripsy apple pie. Complimentary basic tea and coffee was provided upon request, too (same as for Jamie’s Italian and Wonderland).
After dinner, we were really, really full so we went for a walk around Deck 5, where there is an outdoor area surrounding the perimeter of the ship, too. We didn’t manage to catch the sunset, but the view was marvellous nonetheless.
Because we had a fear of missing out, we also went to check out the Main Dining Room (MDR) at Deck 4 to find out how ordinary peasants ate. We were assigned to the Chinese-themed restaurant of the MDR (the food is the same, though). The menu was pretty good, too, but we were so full all we could afford was a plate of escargots, some macarons and a fruit platter. Compared to the specialty restaurants, the MDR was really big, though it did feel a little crowded and had this lingering food smell that was a little reminiscent of how food in a hospital smells like. It also felt a little like an old, dingy dim sum restaurant (think Red Star Restaurant).
On the morning of Day 3, we headed to MDR once again to have our breakfast. We were allocated a different-themed section of the MDR which felt somewhat better. Breakfast selection was somewhat more limited than that at Windjammer, but I settled for this:
The portions were acceptable; by this time, we were also cognisant not to shove too much food into our bellies given that lunch was only a couple of hours away…
After breakfast, we changed back into our swimwear and went to the Solarium on Deck 14. Do note that the Solarium and indoor pool are different areas; initially we confused the two and thought that the indoor pool was the Solarium and were (falsely) disappointed!
The Solarium is an adults-only place and has a cascading pool and a few whirlpools. The cascading pool is not heated, so it is not really comfortable in the morning. On the other hand, the whirlpool was a touch too hot. Each pool is restricted to 5 people at any one time.
We also ordered cocktails for the first time. Price-wise, nothing too exorbitant (about US$13 per drink after taxes) and it’s nice sipping on a cocktail while soaking in the endless sea view.
After spending an hour or so at the Solarium, we went back to Jamie’s Italian for lunch, and the waitress recognised us from the day before. Tried some of the other options we didn’t try the previous day, and was mindful not to overeat. Overall, the food at Jamie’s was pretty good (contrary to some reviews we read previously)!
After lunch, we went to Windjammer just to check out how the lunch buffet spread is. It’s fairly decent, though I don’t think you get raw oysters and stuff.
Then, it was some time spent at the casino when I finally decided to try Blackjack. Turns out Blackjack is quite considerably different from banluck and in a sense, less risky in that you don’t lose 7x of your money when the banker draws a triple 7.
Headed up to the SeaPlex at 4pm for our pop dance class, which was easy-to-follow and honestly, quite some fun. It was also there that we realised that in the morning, you can play paddle tennis and other sports like soccer/ basketball which we didn’t manage to try. On the second level of the SeaPlex, there is an Xbox arcade as well as an air hockey table and four table tennis tables. Pity we didn’t get the chance to try it.
We had dinner at Izumi’s, which was honestly pretty ‘meh’ as compared to our other specialty dining experiences.
Apparently, due to certain regulations, all food needs to be sent to the USA to clear FDA checks before we can consume them on the ship. As a result, the sashimi felt a little ‘icy’ and easily disintegrated in our mouths. The pork gyoza and the mochi ice cream were the only saving grace, I guess.
We also got to check out the photo gallery on Deck 5. Throughout the cruise, and at many of the specialty dining restaurants, we were asked to pose for photos. As it turns out, each photo costs US$19.99 (print or digital), though there is a package that costs US$100 which gives you more photos. The photos we saw were nothing out of the ordinary so we gave them a pass…
At this time, we were beginning to feel a little sad that our ‘minimoon’ was coming to an end. We went to the casino, wanting just to soak in the atmosphere and stay for a while, but we ended up being there for almost three hours! We almost lost US$300 but managed to reduce the loss to US$120 after a few lucky blackjack games.
Day 4: Back to Land
We fell asleep at 2am that night and woke up at 6am for breakfast. Windjammer and Two70 are open for breakfast on the last day. We had some muffins and wraps for breakfast which was pretty… normal at best.
Our allocated disembarkation time was 7am (the earliest timing, possibly because we checked in the earliest?). From what I’ve heard, no one will care even if your disembark late (as long as it’s before 10am, though!) but we decided to leave on time to catch up on our sleep.
The disembarkation process was quite fast; you just had to drop your Tracelet on the way out and scan your SeaPass so they can ensure that you don’t have any outstanding bills to settle. Then, it’s just a matter of scanning your passport and baggage, and off you go! The waiting bays at the cruise terminal was very, very warm, though, so I was really glad once my cab arrived.
Till next time.