Heard the news about a COVID-19 case on board the Royal Caribbean cruise earlier this month? Well, we were on it too! After an incident-free cruise on another ship barely a month prior, it was the last thing we expected to happen. Which truly brought home how delicate the pandemic situation is, and how easily complacency can set in.
Thankfully, the case turned out to be a false positive. More importantly, however, Royal Caribbean International (RCI) had taken all precautions, putting in place safety protocols and contingency plans. And the Quantum of the Seas crew were exemplary in carrying them out. Here’s a lookback on our Royal Caribbean cruise.
This time, the procedure for taking our pre-cruise COVID-19 swab tests was slightly different. It was the RT-PCR (reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction) test, which we had to get 48-72 hours before our cruise. This took place at the Fullerton Health Testing Centre located at the Raffles City Convention Centre.
It seemed like a hassle, having to make this extra trip. But RCI had decided to go with the ‘gold standard’ of COVID-19 testing — and is absorbing all testing costs! That means passengers pay nothing for both the pre-cruise test and post-cruise antigen rapid test. Also, the Raffles City Convention Centre setting is undoubtedly more pleasant than the Marina Bay Cruise Terminal’s multi-storey carpark.
The next day, we received our (negative) test results via email. I have to say that with the swab out of the way, the check-in process seemed smoother and quicker. Just make sure you have the RC app — and TraceTogether — downloaded onto your phone. It lets you check in electronically, which means you simply flash the SetSail Pass and you’re good to go.
Just before going through immigration, each passenger also gets a Tracelet. It’s a wearable tracking device that acts like the TraceTogether token. The adjustable silicon strap feels like any fitness tracker on the wrist, which is good, because it’s mandatory to have it on you throughout the cruise.
The Sail-cation Begins!
It was a stormy afternoon, so entering the main entrance lobby of the Quantum of the Seas was almost a bit of a shock to the senses. My first impressions can be summed up with the words “bright lights, big city”. Big floating city, that is. Huge etched glass panels, shiny chromed rails, velvet drapes, crystal chandeliers…. There is a certain glamour a la Las Vegas or Hollywood about the ship’s aptly named Royal Esplanade.
After spending a few minutes gaping, it was time to get moving. First stop, to our staterooms to collect our SeaPass cards. These act as onboard identity and credit cards, as well as the key to the staterooms. Which we found neatly presented by our respective stateroom doors. My colleague and I each had our own balcony room this time, about 10 doors apart.
SeaPass in hand, we returned to the Royal Esplanade on Deck 4 to report to our respective Assembly stations. It was time for the mandatory Muster Drill. The crew explained emergency safety procedures, such as where to go, what to do, and how to use the life jackets. It only took a couple of minutes, then back to our staterooms we went to freshen up before dinner.
Extravagant Eats and Entertainment
That first evening was full of delicious feasting, both for the tummy and the eyes. Apart from dining options included in the ticket price, there are several speciality restaurants to discover.
One of these is Jamie’s Italian by Jamie Oliver. While the selection is similar to the outlets in Singapore, the food somehow tasted better. Perhaps thanks to the holiday mood in the sea air? After a safely distanced and fulfilling dinner of baked cheesy mushrooms, truffle tagliatelle, prawn linguini, and tiramisu, it was time for the theatre!
Over at the Royal Theatre, a mixture of friendly and witty ushers guided us to our seats. It’s a good idea to arrive up to half an hour before showtimes, as early birds enjoy the best seats in the house. Even so, reservations are necessary and groups of up to five can sit together, just like on land. I imagine that the magic number will become eight when Phase Three kicks in on 28 December.
Speaking of magic, the headline act that night starred John Taylor, Magic Master. Known as Australia’s finest illusionist and magic inventor, his show had everything from comical tricks to spectacular illusions. I don’t want to give away any spoilers, but this is definitely an act the whole family will enjoy.
Once the kids are in bed, adults can sneak out for a drink and live music at the many bars and lounges. We chose to celebrate our first night at the late-night pizza bar, Sorrento’s. A slice each of classic Margherita and hearty Carnivore left us wanting more. Complete your pizza feast with a cuppa of your choice from the adjoining 24-hour Café Promenade. They have a rotating selection of sandwiches, cookies, pastries, and cakes too.
Day Two Dawns
Our first full day on board promised to be a busy one. We toyed with the idea of ordering room service — Continental Breakfast is complimentary — but felt we might need more sustenance.
So off we went to the Main Dining Room, where options were an American diner and a Chinese restaurant. The breakfast menu, however, is the same at both. After tapping our SeaPass, getting our temperature taken, and a squirt of hand sanitiser from the ubiquitous automated dispenser, we were ushered to our table in the Chinese-themed Silk.
Breakfast choices were wide and varied, but the standout item for me came from the pastry basket that the wait staff kept proffering — chocolate glazed doughnuts!
Stuffed to the proverbial gills, we rushed off to join the rest of the media group for that morning’s tour. It was mindboggling how much planning went into making the 348-metre-long ship cruise-ready during this COVID-19 pandemic. From the gym and spa to retail shops and even the casino, all indoor venues go through serious sanitation daily. Activities from sushi-making workshops to scavenger hunts have also been carefully rethought.
For parents, it’s extra reassuring to know that all activities for children have been redesigned to incorporate safe-distancing principles. Ever played dodge ball with only your feet? Adventure Ocean, essentially the Quantum of the Seas’ complimentary kids’ club, is where it all happens. It caters to Aquanauts from 3-5 years, Explorers from 6-8 years, and Voyagers from 9-12 years. Each has a dedicated zone, where certified childcare personnel unleash fun and engaging activities on the kids.
More Exciting Explorations
The exacting standards extend to the outdoor decks as well. Lots of excited faces were braving the sun, queuing up for their turn on the rock walls. Crew were on hand to usher, guide, and cheerfully but firmly enforce the one-metre rule. The same was true for those waiting to tackle the waves on the FlowRider surf simulator and air currents on RipCord by iFLY. We looked forward to trying them out for ourselves on the following day.
Both outdoor and indoor pool decks were equally popular, it seemed. Both came with water play areas for the little ones and not-so-little ones. Your SeaPass gets you entry and pool towels. Once again, crew are always present to ensure safe-distancing while everyone has a splashing good time.
Soon it was time for lunch. Of its 18 dining venues, we picked the Quantum of the Seas’ inclusive buffet restaurant, Windjammer. Just browsing the buffet stations to figure out what to have was a massive undertaking. From Italian pasta to Chinese mainstays, Indian dishes to the carving stations, it would probably take quite a few meals before we got to try all the global cuisines on offer. Freshly assembled tacos were hands down our favourite!
Fighting post-lunch food coma, we made our way to the SeaPlex, the largest indoor active space at sea. On the main floor, participants from 5 to 75 years were having a ball at a K-pop line-dancing class. Upstairs in the galleries, parents were playing table tennis with their kids, while groups of teens played Xbox games. You can even get gourmet hotdogs at the SeaPlex Dog House if you got hungry while playing. We didn’t linger as our itinerary included a date with the bumper cars here the next day, so we would be back.
Besides, the North Star beckoned. Yup, that’s the famous jewel-shape glass capsule punctuating the top deck of the ship. A little bump signals the lift-off, but the rest of the 15-minute journey is smooth. The North Star rotates up and over the sides of the ship at more than 300 metres above sea level. The view? Spectacular.
An Enchanting Evening
Back on ‘earth’, we dropped by the Solarium on the way back to our staterooms to freshen up before dinner. There’s something rather magical about this adults-only retreat. The kids busy having fun at Adventure Ocean? Then this is where you should be. Take a relaxing dip in a whirlpool, or just lounge and chat, while taking in breathtaking views of the sea and sky through its crystal canopy.
Reluctantly, we left the tropical paradise and got ready for dinner in Wonderland. Yes, just like Lewis Carroll’s Alice, we were about to venture down a rabbit hole of sorts. No idea what to expect, we just went with the flow. From the fantastical interiors and furnishings to the blank menu — invisible ink! — and the beautifully plated dishes served, the entire experience was the result of creative imagination and culinary ingenuity. Oh, and no doubt, yummy too!
After an enchanting dinner, we hustled off to Two70°, a multi-dimensional entertainment space with floor-to-ceiling glass walls presenting a 270-degree panorama almost three decks high. As lights dimmed, a series of robot screens came to life, projecting a unique digital art performance. It was super mesmerising, so imagine our surprise when we realised this was only the pre-show.
The headline performance was to offer a contrasting, yet no less entertaining, vibe. Bumbling his way onto the circular floor stage was comedy juggler Steve Rawlings. The holder of seven Guinness World Records, the veteran entertainer has even performed for British royalty. And it showed. His act had a little bit of everything, easily keeping us in stitches all night long.
(See also: 10 Funniest Parents on Twitter)
And Then It Happened
It was to be an early night for us, as we had lots more adventure planned on Day Three. But as we now know, that wasn’t meant to be. I slept through the 2am announcement but learnt about it first thing in the morning.
Long story short, a passenger had tested positive for COVID-19 after seeking treatment for diarrhoea. He and his travelling companions had been quarantined, and contact tracing was ongoing. Having turned around during the night, the ship was now back in Singapore waters. The cruise was to be cut short and we were to remain in our staterooms to await further instructions.
It was a little alarming at first. But the Captain’s calm voice updating us periodically throughout the day was reassuring. The crew delivered our breakfast, bottles of water, and then lunch, and eventually dinner. They weren’t the feasts we had planned and anticipated, but the meals were adequate. Video-on-demand movies were also thoughtfully unlocked, so we could binge-watch for free between texting and updating family, friends, and colleagues.
(See also: 23 Nostalgic Movies to Watch with Your Kids)
Upholding The Royal Promise
Sometime in the afternoon, a low booming sound passing by the door signalled the crew sanitising the corridors. This would be the second time that day, as the electrostatic fogger disinfects all corridors and public areas each night of the cruise. This is part of the comprehensive suite of measures under The Royal Promise. Others include 100% fresh, filtered air up to 12 times an hour in staterooms, and about 15 times an hour in public spaces.
Part of our (now thwarted) itinerary that day had been to visit the newly upgraded medical facilities. Two doctors and five registered nurses are on hand, with one of them being an Infectious Disease Control Officer. Of course, they were then caring for the patient and testing his close contacts. The patient was later extracted from the ship, and further sanitisation protocols were conducted.
It wasn’t till almost 7pm when Marina Bay Cruise Terminal gave the ship the green light to begin the disembarkation process for the rest of the passengers. At about 7.55pm, a crew member rang my doorbell and said it was my turn. Even now, there was no panic, no crowding. We were released stateroom by stateroom, taking the elevators separately to the gangway level. All that was left was to go through immigration, take the Antigen Rapid Test, and head home.
Quantum of Solace
Just like that less-than-stellar James Bond movie, our cruise on board the Quantum of the Seas ended in disappointment. We didn’t get to try the first skydiving experience at sea, ride bumper cars at SeaPlex, or catch the Cirque-style Gold Art acrobatic show at the Royal Theatre. Not to mention all the other dining treats we had lined up.
On the other hand, after this unique encounter, I have no qualms about going on another Royal Caribbean cruise. Hopefully, the ship’s crew also takes solace in how admirably they performed under pressure. There wasn’t a moment I felt unsafe, even if it hadn’t turned out to be a false positive. In fact, I think I’ll book another Quantum of the Seas sail-cation soon, especially with the current promotion of 50% off every guest (plus kids sail free). Join me!