When Royal Caribbean International’s Voyager of the Seas arrives in November to spend the summer here she will be the largest ship to be based in Australia. Toni Eatts checked out the megaliner’s conference facilities.
STORY BY TONI EATTS
When you ask Luciana Valadez, group coordinator for Voyager of the Seas, to name the most unusual request she has had to field she hesitates. Not because she can’t remember but because she’s had some doozies.
“What is the name of that Olympic sport where players slide stones across ice?” she asks. “Wait, I remember, curling. I hosted a group from the USA who came with a pallet of 20 stones and they wanted to play on our ice rink.”
No, Luciana hasn’t lost it. Voyager of the Seas comes with its very own ice rink. So it’s no surprise a group of 30 curling fanatics seized the opportunity to play their sport at sea.
Curling involves sliding a polished granite stone weighing up to 20kg across a sheet of ice to a target. Sound simple enough? Not if you’re the one who has to get special permission for the pallet of stones to be delivered onto the ship and organise them to be kept in a freezer. Remember, a ship is like a hotel.
In the case of Voyager it’s a hotel that carries 3838 passengers and nearly 1200 staff as well as stores to serve up to 17,000 meals a day, along with all drinks and much, much more. Therefore, space is at a premium, so if you’re Luciana you’re required to use your considerable negotiation skills to ensure that 20 giant rocks can be stored in a freezer.
Why a freezer? The stones must be frozen when they are placed on the ice otherwise the ice cracks. A disaster for the players as the game can’t be played and a disaster for the rink manager who will be under pressure to repair and refreeze the ice in time for the next performance of the spectacular ice show by the on-board figure skaters.
With that mission successfully accomplished, organising a last-minute cocktail party for 30 passengers who were cruising on an eight-night itinerary from Singapore to Shanghai was a breeze.
“The group leader rang this morning. It’s his birthday and he wants to play the piano at a cocktail party. Tonight is formal night.”
Luciana says this knowing I’m aware that the ship has at least one night during a cruise when passengers are required to frock up, special menus are provided and events staged.
“It’s a busy day,” she continues, “but I was able to secure Cloud Nine which has a piano and the galley will supply canapés.”
Cloud Nine Cocktail Lounge has capacity for 36 people and is positioned so its floor-to-ceiling windows provide a splendid view over the pool area and out to sea.
It’s one of eight meeting or function rooms on Voyager available for private groups. They range in size from Cloud Nine through to the La Scala Theatre which seats 1350. Meanwhile, the ship’s dedicated conference centre offers four rooms – the Alaska and Europe rooms which each seat 100 theatre-style, while the Bermuda and Caribbean rooms each seat 80 theatre-style. These rooms also have the ability to be combined as doubles or as one large space which can accommodate 400 theatre-style seats. In addition, there is also a boardroom which seats 18.
Luciana recalls that one of the most effective uses of the conference centre she has organised was for an American quilting company who had 100 guests.
“We don’t allow guests to bring their own electrical equipment such as irons due to safety concerns. However, this group required sewing machines and irons.”
Was that a problem? Luciana laughs. “It required a lot of discussion. The captain has the final say but it’s my job to liaise with department heads such as the hotel director and the head of security.”
This is where Luciana’s experience in guest services serves her well. She joined Grandeur of the Seas in 2008 in that role and transferred to Voyager as the guest departure officer before being promoted to her current position in January 2011.
“Problem solving is my strength. The shoreside agent delivers the requests from the group to me and I work with the ship team to see how we can do it.”
After extensive discussions the quilting group was allowed to bring their equipment and set it up in the conference centre.
“I had to involve the chief electrician as his team had to organise special cables. We arranged the conference centre so there was a room for seminars, along with a sewing room and an ironing room and a fourth room for other activities.”
And there was the private cocktail party and other exclusive events but none of those fazed Luciana. “That’s the simple part. I always try to say ‘yes’ to every request. The only time I say ‘no’ is when it’s impossible. For example, on the spur of the moment one group decided they wanted a tour of the galley late at night. But it was 10pm and the crew were cleaning up so it couldn’t be done.”
Cruise line: Royal Caribbean International
Vessel: Voyager of the Seas
Star rating: Four stars Max passenger capacity: 3838
Entered service: 1999
Facilities: Main dining room over three levels, buffet dining at the Windjammer Café, also specialty venues Portofino Italian Restaurant and Johnny Rockets Diner where there is a small surcharge. More than 700 cabins have balconies and around 600 interior cabins have views over the Royal Promenade.
For groups: “If you are looking for a unique venue that really delivers on the ‘wow’ factor you can’t go past Voyager,” says Adam Armstrong, commercial manager, RCL Cruises Australia and New Zealand.
He says several Australian companies have held conferences on RCL ships, particularly on the shorter ‘sampler’ cruises introduced last summer. Group sizes have ranged from 20 to 200.
In addition, an American healthcare company held an incentive for 300 on a 10-night Rhapsody of the Seas itinerary to the South Pacific while a Canadian automobile group has booked 600 on a Radiance of the Seas Queensland cruise next year.
“We will be conducting several walk arounds on our ships this summer. These will be open to MICE/Group travel agents.”