Quantum of the Seas burst on the scene in 2014 with many of the innovative features that would drive Royal Caribbean forward for the next five years. It's got a London Eye-inspired gondola attached to a mechanical arm that allows passengers to sail 300 feet above sea level and get a bird's-eye view of the sea and ports. Cruisers can go skydiving at sea, crash into each other in bumper cars, fly on a trapeze at circus school or jog on a large track that breezes by the legs of a giant magenta polar bear sculpture. And Two70, a completely interactive entertainment venue, is hands-down the most technologically advanced space of its kind at sea.
Soon after Quantum's debut, Royal Caribbean whisked it away to Shanghai, where it has introduced the growing Chinese cruise market to what a state-of-the-art mega-ship can be. Adjustments to the ship's dining and itineraries were made to accommodate the tastes and customs of the Chinese, while still serving an international audience. (In 2019, the ship will again receive an update as it prepares for its new seasonal homeport of Singapore.)
However, the dining changes the line made might make the ship less attractive to the more traditional Royal Caribbean cruiser. Johnny Rockets has been converted to Kung Fu Panda noodle house. The Solarium has moved from an adults-only sanctuary to a space open only to suite passengers. Wonderland and Michael's have morphed into venues that feature primarily Chinese flavors. And while Windjammer remains a buffet with some international selections, it's primarily a Chinese experience. If you don't like Asian food, you will be disappointed on this ship.
Programming also changed. While Quantum of the Seas still sells cruises to English speakers -- as many as 2,000 Australian, Americans, Canadians and Brits were on the seven-night itinerary before ours -- the ship's passengers are almost entirely Chinese on the majority of the short sailings that the vessel makes to Japan. (On our four-night cruise to Kagoshima, we only met four other Americans onboard). Few activities were offered in English and English-language excursions were canceled because there weren't enough people. The Broadway musical "Mamma Mia" has been pushed out for "Sequins and Feathers," a retro Las Vegas-style revue that plays more like a sexist caricature.
Additionally, some of the ship's coolest features that are free on other Royal Caribbean ships, such as the North Star and iFly by Ripcord skydiving simulator, carry a fee here.
Despite the changes, the technology and design that made Quantum of the Seas such a game-changer still delight. The robot bartenders still sling drinks at the Bionic Bar. The artwork, such as the breathtaking "Waves of Light," a gorgeous free-form mirror and glass sculpture, still dazzles; Chinese passengers snap selfies of themselves continually around the ship, dressing up to do so.
There are some unavoidable headaches that come from taking a cruise out of China. Embarkation, for one, is a longer process, as China requires more paperwork to leave the country than cruisers might be used to. If you have status with Royal Caribbean, look for those queues, as well as English-speakers who can help you; once we found the right people, we were brought to the front of the line. Arriving into Japan from China was also a headache, as the government required an in-person inspection of everyone onboard. While debarkation was a breeze -- the line for foreigners being so short -- the Baoshan port lacks signage that point you to the right taxi. There's not much Royal Caribbean can do to speed up the red tape, but it's something that cruisers should be aware of.
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Still, it's possible -- and indeed probable -- to have a great time on Quantum of the Seas, even if you don't speak Chinese. Western habits, such as sunbathing and late dining, are not common in China so you'll have the outdoor pool and whirlpools to yourself all day and many restaurants too, if you dine after 7 p.m. The bars were also empty, while the shops stayed open late; if you avoided the Royal Promenade and the shop-till-you-drop action going on there until late, you'd think you were on a ship by yourself. And the crew was outstanding -- everywhere we went, we were greeted by happy hellos and special touches, from the bartender at Vintages who ran the wine tasting for only three of us to the dining staff who brought us a cheese plate unasked, to our room steward who greeted us enthusiastically every time he saw us. Service was personal and quick, and we felt pampered.
We also felt that many of the negative comments we had read about Chinese passenger behavior were overstated. Yes, elevators can get packed. Yes, you might witness loud arguments with staff (as we did when a woman's son was too small to go on the North Star). Yes, you'll see a lot of people taking selfies; cruising is still new to the Chinese and many of the features of the ship that seem obvious to regular cruisers are outright novelties. And as one of the few Caucasian females onboard, we did receive some stares, including a few that veered into uncomfortable territory. But Royal Caribbean has taken steps to ensure order, from placing queue barriers at popular stations at Windjammer and restaurant entrances to literally herding passengers directly to sinks to wash their hands before meals. Staff are also firm in directing people where to sit at shows and where to stand at the shops. Smoking outside designated areas and spitting are discouraged (and we didn't see any of the latter).
Quantum of the Seas remains audacious, employing bold features (mostly successfully) designed to appeal to the modern cruiser who expects the creature comforts and whizbang elements available on land. Passengers of all ages will find plenty to love onboard. For Western cruisers, we suggest that you stick to itineraries of a week or longer so you have more English-language activity and excursion choices. Above all, come with an open mind and the ability to be flexible.
Since Quantum of the Seas moved to Shanghai in 2015, passengers are almost exclusively Chinese, although longer cruises will have a higher proportion of international English speakers from Australia, New Zealand and the U.K. On our four-night sailing, for example, Westerners were almost nowhere to be seen, whereas a weeklong cruise before ours drew 2,000 English speakers (the average number of international passengers on a weeklong cruise is about 700).
The primary language onboard is Mandarin, but all of the staff speak English. Announcements are made in Mandarin and English.
Chinese passengers often travel in charter groups and with multiple generations, so you'll see all ages onboard. Again, demographics depend on itinerary. On our short sailing, there were only 400 children, whereas a cruise before ours over a Chinese national holiday had more than 1,000.
During the day, virtually anything goes. Because they aren't really sunbathers and don't spend much time at the pool, many Chinese passengers were more dressed up during the day than you'd expect, particularly the older generation. It was fairly common to see people in pantsuits and dresses, walking around the interior of the ship (and we were told that the dress tends to be even more formal on a longer cruise, when more affluent Chinese are onboard). Chinese Gen Xers, Millennials and their children adhered to the more shorts and T-shirt casual vibe that you'd expect.
In the evening, it's a mixed bag. Younger Chinese dress up to go to Music Hall, wearing cute dresses and carrying designer purses. The older generation wear the same clothes to dinner that they had on during the day. There's one formal night during the cruise, but it tends to be limited to the first seating.