There has been plenty of the Singapore “cruise to nowhere” buzz lately, but I had always dissed the idea. What could I possibly get out of sleeping on a cruise ship that didn’t go to another destination? Wouldn’t we get bored being stuck on a ship in the ocean? Would it be safe amidst a global pandemic? And how would I cope with having to take that dreaded PCR test before sailing?
In a normal year, Royal Caribbean operates 24 cruise ships around the world; until recently, though, they’ve all been idle. However, thanks to Singapore’s fabulous safety measures around COVID-19, the company has come up with a way of taking passengers on one of its fleet, the Quantum of the Seas.
It’s called the Ocean Getaway, and it’s available for two, three or four nights. We went for the four-night option – easily our longest holiday in a year! After booking, I downloaded the Royal Caribbean app and created an account.
The ship sets sail from Singapore at around 9pm (boarding is from 2pm). At the end of the cruise, it returns in the morning, docking at around 6am. Check-out is staggered from 6.30am to 10.30am.
A full PCR test is needed for the cruise – it was the part we were all dreading! A couple of weeks before our scheduled departure, the invitation came to arrange a time at a testing centre in Raffles City for our swab test. You need to take the test a couple of days before sailing. It was uncomfortable, but better than I expected – a little like the “nose freeze” you get after eating too much wasabi! The results came back within 24 hours by email; certificates are accessed via a weblink or app.
Before departure, the Royal Caribbean team send emails for some really great offers on drinks packages, plus a combined drinks and Wi-Fi package with different options on number of devices, activity sign-ups and more. My advice is to book the paid options before sailing; it’s more expensive if you leave it until you’re on board – plus, for the paid activities, you’ll have more choice with time slots.
They also reach out regarding a pre-boarding health check that you need to complete, and to arrange a specific check-in time. Try to check in as early as you can, as you’ll have more of a chance to explore the ship when it’s quieter. You can also catch some of the early activities and tick them off your list before everyone else boards! Time slots for boarding run from 2pm to 8pm, on the half hour.
Formalities at the dock
Before we knew it, our sailing date was upon us. We headed down to the cruise terminal for our allocated time of 2.30pm. Check-in was smooth – it only took 30 minutes from arrival to boarding, including health screening, temperature taking and passport control. They did a great job of keeping us all at a safe distance. You can drop suitcases off at the entrance and they’ll be placed in your cabin later, or you can carry them on yourselves.
Passport control issued us with a “tracelet” – a contracttracing watch that we had to wear throughout the cruise (apart from in the pool, as we found out!). They also issued us with our individual Seapass cards, which you use to check in and out everywhere once on board.
After these formalities, we went straight to our cabin, connected to the ship’s Wi-Fi, and used the app to book our shows and schedule some activities. The app works onboard even if you don’t take the Wi-Fi package and prefer to go offline for a few days.
There are various accommodation options, from an interior stateroom with a virtual balcony to an ocean view with a porthole window, an outside stateroom with balcony, and suites of various sizes. Most staterooms accommodate up to four guests as they have a pull-out sofa bed. A few rooms have interconnecting options where the balcony partition is removed between rooms – a great option for more space. Some of the suite bookings include drinks and speciality restaurant packages, too, so check those out. There’s also an option to upgrade to a suite before sailing – these details are sent by email, subject to availability.
Shows and meals
Having not seen a live show for so long, we were excited to book as many as we could. We were lucky and managed to see them all. Some have multiple timings – for example, 5pm, 8pm and 10pm – so, depending on the length of your trip, you should be able to see most of them. All the theatres are running at one-third capacity due to social distancing. Our favourite was the Sequins & Feathers show, while Starwater is a cuttingedge show held in the Two70 multimedia theatre; we also really enjoyed the Beatles show – our kids too.
Breakfast, lunch and dinner are included at the various restaurants, and the food was fabulous. Breakfast and lunch are offered both as buffet-style (served by the staff behind each station) and a la carte, with flexible eating times. Dinner is seated, with a menu that changes daily. You do have an allocated time for dinner, but this can easily be changed to work around show times.
The drinks package is great value for adults and kids, especially if you book before your trip with one of the special offers. Just tap your Seapass card when you order a drink. The restaurant and bar staff were amazing and got to know us pretty quickly. Last orders are 10pm, with all drinks off the tables at 10.30pm.
Things to do
No pre-booking is required for the main pool or indoor pool, nor the adult-only solarium pool – there’s just a short queue. Sunbeds around the pools go very quickly – most were reserved before 9am with towels, with not a human in sight as they were all at breakfast! There are lots of sunbeds around the top deck, too, but they’re not so convenient as you need to use the lifts or stairs to get down to the pools. Jacuzzis at the main pools have a maximum of five people.
The ship is huge, so it never seems too crowded. In the popular SeaPlex centre, there are lots of free activities to add to your calendar on the app (and with no need to pre-book) – dance classes, tennis, volleyball, soccer skills and more. We just turned up 15 minutes beforehand to register for these. Even popular free activities such as the climbing wall and the Flowrider don’t require pre-booking; queue times for the Flowrider weren’t too bad, especially in the mornings.
In addition to all this, there are some fun chargeable activities that you can book on the app before departure. These include iFly – a nice way to get a taste of skydiving – and also the North Star observation capsule, which gives you a great view of the ship from a different angle, 90 metres above sea level! Classes such as cupcake decorating and sushi making are also available to book for a fee.
There are kids’ clubs available for children above the age of three; you register at the 12th floor, and they can then sign themselves in and out, depending on their age. There’s also a Teen Hangout on the 14th floor. Fitness bunnies will enjoy the great gym (pre-book a slot once you get on board), while those wanting to take in the fresh sea air can use the running track around the top deck of the whole ship – we really enjoyed that. We only passed through the casino, but it seemed busy and has everything from slot machines to tables, all with an acceptable minimum bet. There’s also a spa, but we ran out of time to try it!
12 top tips
- Download the Royal Caribbean app as soon as you’ve arranged your trip; it allows you to pre-book all activities and then check your schedule while onboard, plus you can keep an eye on your additional spending. The app syncs to your particular cruise booking when you log in.
- If you want to try some of the other restaurants onboard, speciality dining can be booked in advance on the app, for an additional cost. (A few of these are included in the suite bookings.) We dined at Jamie’s Italian, which was great – especially at lunchtimes when it was quieter. The additional cost was US$23 and US$45 per person for lunch and dinner respectively, and you can eat whatever you like. Rates are subject to an 18 percent tax.
- Try to schedule an early check-in (the earliest time is 2pm) as you can’t book any shows or certain activities (bumper cars, for example) until you board the ship. This is especially important on the shorter two-night sailings, as show seats get booked out very quickly.
- If you don’t manage to get a spot for a show, go to the theatre 15 minutes before the performance; there are usually some passengers who get sidetracked in a bar or somewhere else on the ship, and you can take their spot.
- Bring sports shoes and socks for activities like the rock-climbing wall.
- Bring lanyards for your Seapass cards. These are handy as you need to tap in and out wherever you go.
- Bring adaptors for charging devices – the ship has US plug sockets.
- Don’t bother bringing snacks, as there’s always something to eat – ice cream, hotdogs, free-flow pizza and more.
- The ship sails in international waters so bring some notes if you want to head to the casino. Everything is priced in US dollars, but Singapore dollars are accepted, too.
- If you need some peace, the solarium is for adults only (ages 16 and above) and is a great way to escape, with pools, warm jacuzzis and floor-toceiling windows.
- Masks are mandatory at all times, including when lounging by the pool on your sunbed.
- Check out the duty free – there are some great offers. In particular, look out for the flash sales on handbags and leather goods, as there are some real bargains to be had.
Enjoy your trip! We had the most amazing time and can’t wait to book again – a big shout-out to the staff who are polite, courteous and fun. The ship has plenty of social distancing officers onboard. Together with staff, they ensured we were well looked after. Staff are tested every few days and don’t mingle outside their bubbles. They provide tip envelopes in your room the night before check-out, so bring some notes if you want to give a little extra to someone who has looked after you extremely well.
If you have any other questions about booking a cruise or tips for on board, visit our Instagram page (@expatlivingsg) and pop a message on our Royal Caribbean post. For info about upcoming Ocean Getaway cruises, visit royalcaribbean.com.sg.
This article first appeared in the May 2021 edition of Expat Living. You can purchase the latest issue or subscribe, so you never miss a copy!