Ovation of the Seas Entertainment & Activities
The two-deck Royal Theatre, located forward on Decks 4 and 5, seats 1,300 passengers and is a multi-purpose stage venue used for Broadway-style productions, 3D movies, comedy and other shows. Ovation debuted two new shows for Royal Caribbean. The Beautiful Dream is a feel-good song-and-dance show about a bereaved father who is visited by his late wife in a dream, which helps him come to terms with his loss and rediscover his zest for life. It features some fantastic special effects, including a fire-breathing dragon and steam train. Alternating with The Beautiful Dream is Live, Love, Legs, an all-singing, all-dancing Vegas-style spectacular with aerial acrobatics and slick choreography. Pixels is the third show, which combines special effects and pop music and is held in the multi-purpose venue Two70. It's worth making reservations for these exceptional productions, especially on shorter itineraries, or you could miss out.
The theatre hosts two shows nightly -- usually at 7 pm and 9 pm -- to fit in with passengers' preferred dining times. Acts on our cruise ranged from a magician to comedians and a talented musical theatre star. There is no need to book for these shows as the venue operates on a free seating basis. Generally, the later show attracts a smaller audience, so opt for this performance if you're in a big group and want to sit together.
Royal Caribbean's Quantum ships really shook up recreation on the ocean waves with a number of first-at-sea innovations, the largest of which is SeaPlex. The largest sports complex at sea is a huge, versatile area that offers a non-stop program of fun and games for all ages. The heart of SeaPlex is the arena; depending of the time of day, it undergoes a metamorphosis from a basketball court into a roller-skating rink and, most novel of all, a bumper-car circuit. For passengers who want to fly through the air with the greatest of ease, there is also a circus school with trapeze classes held over an air-filled mat. Children need to be six years or older to take part in this activity.
"SeaPods" which are small rooms for getting together with friends and family, are located around the arena on the second deck of SeaPlex. Gamers can play Xbox or participate in more traditional games such as air hockey (although, unlike the other activities, this attracts a $US1(A$1.30) per game charge). This area is also a good spot to watch the roller-skating sessions, which run for around half an hour at a time, with consecutive slots overlapping by 15 minutes. You need a pair of socks to participate and skaters of all ages must wear wrist guards, knee pads, elbow pads and a helmet. Don't forget to sign the waiver form and collect your wristband at the desk near the entrance to the rink prior to lining up at the equipment counter. Arrive five minutes or so before the skating is due to start to get a wristband for the first half-hour session. Children under six must be accompanied on the rink by a parent at all times (thankfully, these grown-ups are not required to wear skates). Children under 13 must be supervised by an adult who can either join them for a skate or watch from the sidelines.
Dodgem cars are available every day or two so youngsters and the young-at-heart can bump their way around the SeaPlex. Children must be at least 5 years old and 1.06 metres (42 inches) tall to ride; those aged under nine must be accompanied by an adult. While the queue for this activity can feel slow moving at times, it is worth the wait. Smart cruisers who lined up around 20 minutes before the bumper car session was due to begin had virtually no wait when the ride opened; others who arrived later waited up to an hour. It is worth noting that those passengers staying in a suite can show their SeaPass card and ride the bumper cars without queuing. Unfortunately, this policy wasn't made known to non-suite passengers in the long, long line who became understandably upset about those 'pushing in' and riding multiple times. Is this fair? We're not sure but we did feel sorry for those who were challenged. Nearby, the Challenger's Arcade, linked to SeaPlex, is packed with (for-a-fee) video games. If you buy your child a capped $US20 (A$26) or equivalent pass for the arcade, be warned that additional games will automatically be charged to your child's card
Throughout the day, a wide variety of activities -- creative, mental and physical -- are held across the ship in areas such as the Music Hall and Two70. (The latter venue takes its name from the sweeping 270-degree views offered during the day.) The Workshop, located off the second deck of Two70, hosts craft sessions, such as jewellery making and scrapbooking; and Sudoku is available at any time from the library, also next to Two70 on Deck 6. Passengers can challenge their grey matter with Puzzle Break where teams try to "escape" from a room by solving clues. Puzzle Break can only be booked onboard via the Royal IQ app or guest services. In addition to pool games, there is also Zumba, bingo and trivia quizzes. Don't miss the contemporary dance classes such as hip-hop run by the onboard dancers. Even if you have two left feet, they're a lot of fun. Check the daily program for times and venues.
Regular events are also held for solo passengers with the aim of fostering new friendships, such as a daily singles and solo travellers lunch, which takes place in Two70.
When the sun goes down, there's as much to do as there is during daylight hours. The biggest problem is deciding what to do, where to go and how to fit everything in during the cruise. From smooth Latin sounds to classic rock, passengers can dance and tap their feet to tunes from around the world, or grab their own share of the limelight in a karaoke session. Aside from a Calypso steel drum band or classical pianist in the nautical inspired Schooner Bar, our only disappointment was the lack of live music available during the cocktail hour.
Casino Royale (Deck 3): Located midship, the large casino boasts 30 gaming tables and, catering to the Asian market, a larger number of slot machines than the casinos on the sibling Quantum ships. There are around 130 slot machines, open from 9 am to late; additional machines have been located along the back wall of the Music Hall that occupies the same deck. The gaming tables typically open at noon on sea days and 8 pm on port days. There is a VIP area in one corner. Anyone can go in, but the suggested minimum bet is US$200 (A$260). When in Asia, the casino is the only inside area of the ship where smoking is allowed in a designated area. That said, the smell of smoke is noticeable in the non-smoking section. In Australia, the whole casino is non-smoking. Note: For real high rollers, a VVIP gaming area called the Golden Room opens in part of the Diamond Lounge, on Deck 4, when the ship homeports in China. Here the suggested minimum bet is US$300 (A$391), with the sky being the limit.
Music Hall (Decks 3 and 4): Divided between two decks and connected by a staircase, this popular venue rocks at night. It holds around 600 people in total, but it's usually standing room only by the time the nightly rock n' roll cover band or Beatles tribute act strikes the first chord. Get there early if you want to grab a seat. Passengers can also get up on stage at karaoke and rockaoke (where a rock band accompanies you while you sing) sessions held in the Music Hall.
Two70 (Decks 5 and 6): This standout venue is located right at the back of the ship and features jaw-dropping technology that provides an ever-changing backdrop to the shows. At night, the panoramic floor-to-ceiling glass windows (which reach the height of Deck 7) are transformed into Vistarama, more than 30 metres (100 feet) by six metres (20 feet) tall that is used for ultra-HD projected images. Adding to the spectacle are six robotic screens, suspended above the performance area, that can move independently or together to create even more digital imagery. Everything comes into play when dancers, musicians and acrobats take to the multi-level stage (often below and above it) for Pixels. Two70 holds about 400 people; for the best view of all the high-tech wizardry, arrive around 30 minutes before showtime and choose one of the raised seats on the side of the stage. Shows start at 6.30 pm and 8 pm and reservations are required. Groups who want to sit together should definitely arrive half an hour before the show starts.
Don't miss the Silent Disco which takes place here once or twice each cruise. Get there early to score a pair of glowing headphones with a switch so you can swap between two different music channels: old-time favourites like The Monkees and a live mix from the ship's DJ. Don't worry if you have two left feet; no one knows if you aren't in time with the music. Even if you don't feel like dancing, this unique disco is fun to watch.
Ovation of the Seas Bars & Lounges
By day, the pool bars are popular spots for drinks and sundowners; come evening, passengers head to the bars that are situated in and around the midship Royal Esplanade. They all boast a different atmosphere, and passengers are likely to find a favourite and stick to it. One of the ship's largest bars, The Music Hall, was closed each evening from 4.30 pm to 8 pm and used as an overflow area for Diamond Lounge passengers on our cruise. We hope this does not continue as it placed additional pressure on other venues. Inside bars were packed in the early evening on sea days, making it virtually impossible to find a seat.
Casino Royale Bar (Deck 3): Celebrate your winnings or drown your sorrows at the bar situated in the casino.
Boleros (Deck 4): With its plush red and gold seating and low lighting, this bar has a Latin theme. There's live music on the stage each evening, and passengers who want to strut their stuff with a salsa or samba can take to the small dance floor.
Michael's Genuine Pub (Deck 4): Brits will certainly feel at home in this pub. With its dark wood booths, it's the place to catch up with friends and watch sports on the TV. It serves a selection of craft beers (add US$7 (A$9) to take home a souvenir glass), Newcastle Ale on tap, wines, spirits and cocktails. Food is also served for an extra fee.
Schooner Bar (Deck 5): This atmospheric, nautical-themed bar -- complete with a ship's wheel that provides an obligatory photo opportunity -- is an atmospheric spot. It also doubles as a piano bar, and passengers can sit around the grand piano and make requests. It's the closest bar to Chops Grille, making it a good spot for a pre- or post-dinner drink.
Bionic Bar (Deck 5): The most talked-about bar on the ship and unofficially dubbed the "robot bar", this is where drinks are shaken and served by the pair of Makr Shakr robotic bartenders. Alcoholic and non-alcoholic cocktails are ordered via a tablet, and two screens on each side of the bar show who has ordered the drink, the ingredients going into it and the stage of its preparation. The screens also throw up fun stats about the most popular cocktails ordered by different age groups. After the robots have mixed your drink in a plastic cup, they push it down a chute towards you. Then you need to move away from the tables holding the tablets to let the next people order. But there are stools behind the walkway in front of the bar, and futuristic silver seats nearby, where you can continue to watch the robotic action and the synchronised refuelling "dance" they do every now and again. That said, on our cruise the bar tenders were a tad temperamental, with one out of action for the entire cruise (although it would still dance occasionally if it was in the mood). You're probably only going to get one or two drinks here rather than make it your regular haunt, but it's a novelty and a one-of-a-kind, must-do experience. Note: Only passengers aged 21 or more can order from the Bionic Bar.
Vintages Wine Bar (Deck 5): This stylish venue tends to be quieter than some of the other bars, probably because it just serves wine. Passengers can sip a wide range from vineyards around the world, with the choice of ordering from the bar staff or getting a glass from the self-serve wine dispensers activated by the SeaPass cards. The bar is well-located for an aperitif before a meal at nearby Jamie's Italian, and also occupies a nice spot overlooking the spectacular Red Thread art installation by Chinese artist Bieli Liu. It was our favourite bar on the ship with unfailingly pleasant, personal and efficient service provided by a team of friendly bartenders, despite the fact they were often run off their feet.
Two70 (Decks 5 and 6): There is a bar near the windows at Two70 with a couple of creative cocktails not found at other bars. For a twist on your usual Champagne or Kir Royale, try the Balancing Act with creme de cassis foam.
Sky Bar (Deck 14): This bar serves the main outdoor pool. It gets busy on sunny days, but staff pushing trolleys filled with refreshing alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages also patrol the indoor and outdoor pool deck, making it easy to quench your thirst.
Pool Bar (Deck 14): The ship's quietest bar is found in the covered pool area.
Sunshine Bar (Deck 14): Located in the adults-only, daylight-filled Solarium section at the front of the ship, this pleasant bar is relatively peaceful. Freshly squeezed orange juice is available here (for a fee), which is handy for the adjacent bistro at breakfast time.
North Star Bar (Deck 15): This is the most popular outdoor bar as it is next to the entrance to the North Star and provides great views of the pod, as well as a panoramic view over the pool deck.
Ovation of the Seas Outside Recreation
You don't need to go far to find Ovation's three pools; they are all located on Deck 14, yet each one has a very different vibe. The main pool, midship next to the Kung Fu Panda Noodle Shop, is the busiest (and noisiest), especially on sunny sea days. The pool is five feet deep, has two whirlpools and is overlooked by a giant film screen, variously used for movies and trivia questions. Live or recorded music is played during the day, and it is always a popular place to be during sailaways. Next to this pool is the colourful, family-friendly H2O Zone, with slides and a donut-shaped pool with a gentle, continuous current. There is a small splash pool for children who wear nappies. Note: Children who are not toilet trained are not allowed in the main pools, whirlpools or H2O pools, aside from the splash pool -- even if they are in swim nappies.
Immediately next to the main pool, moving towards the front of the ship, is the indoor pool which is slightly deeper at 1.6 metres (5 feet 3 inches) and has a retractable roof for warm days and is available for families to use. Although it is right next door to the main pool, it is self-contained and therefore a quieter option for people who want to laze and read in between the occasional dip. It also has two whirlpools.
Beyond the pool is the Sea Trek shop, which sells sunscreen and other items.
Forward is the Solarium pool, which is a lovely, peaceful, adult-only area. A trio of shallow tiered pools, geared for relaxing off rather than swimming, run down to the front of the vessel, and the lower pool has five stone loungers (more comfortable than they sound) set in the shallow water. The area is enclosed by panoramic windows and a glass roof, and has palm trees, lush green flowerbeds and a stunning, flower-like red sculpture on the ceiling near the bar, giving it the feel of a tropical garden. The sound of water trickling down between the pools adds to the relaxed air. Seating is a mix of traditional loungers and rattan chairs with comfy cushions, some big enough for two people.
The absolute high spot, in more ways than one, is the RipCord by iFly skydiving tower -- Royal Caribbean's first-at-sea innovation that debuted on sister ships Quantum and Anthem of the Seas. You no longer need to jump from a plane at 12,000 feet to experience what it's like to skydive; just head to the top deck.
It is a complimentary activity in Australia, but you need to make reservations online or early in the cruise to avoid disappointment as there are limited sessions each day -- typically 8 am to 10 am and 4 pm to 9 pm with 12 "skydivers" on each one. Children have to be three and over to take part, and for adults there is a weight restriction of 104 kg for passengers under six feet and 113 kg for those over six feet. All participants have to sign a waiver form. (It saves time to do this on the interactive TV screen in the cabin, where a multiple form covers all onboard activities that require a waiver signature.) After checking in at the reception area on Deck 15, participants watch an instructional video and meet the instructor, who runs through the experience and what to expect. Next, everyone is kitted out with a jumpsuit, helmet, goggles and earplugs. (You need to wear socks or lace-up shoes such as trainers.) All of this takes around 30 minutes. Then you'll head up to Deck 16 for your "flight" inside the simulator. A curious crowd always gathers outside during the sessions, and friends and relatives can take photos. (A ship's photographer is always on hand as well.) The instructor helps you inside and is with you all the time to guide and help you during the "skydive". The experience lasts exactly one minute, which doesn't sound long but is sufficient for a totally exhilarating sensation.
The other big outdoor attraction is the FlowRider surf simulator, also on Deck 16. Again, this is a complimentary activity that requires pre-registration and a waiver form. If you have already signed the waiver online, you still need to visit the iFly counter on Deck 15 to obtain a blue wristband. This band stays on throughout the cruise and entitles you to ride the FlowRider whenever sessions are on. This activity carries a height restriction of 1.3 metres for boogie boarding and 1.47 metres for stand-up surfing. There are various opening times for the FlowRider, which vary depending on whether the ship is at sea or docked, so check the daily planner. Instructors provide safety demonstrations and instruction is also available, priced at US$69 (A$89) per hour for a group lesson with a minimum of four and a maximum of eight participants. It costs US$552 (A$719) per hour for a private session or you can rent the FlowRider for exclusive use for US$345 (A$449) per hour.
Next to the giant panda installation is the rock-climbing wall, which also requires a waiver signature. Even if you have already signed the waiver, you still need to obtain a wristband from the iFly counter next to the rock wall. Climbing (and waiting for your turn) is more comfortable when the wall is in shade. Check the daily program for opening times, which are typically two hours every morning and afternoon.
If all this sounds too exhausting, Ovation's other outdoor highlight is the North Star. The panoramic glass capsule on Deck 15, usually open from 8 am to 5.30 pm, is attached to a giant mechanical arm that gently raises it to 90 metres (300 feet) above sea level, providing a stunning 360-degree view over the surrounding seascape or ports of call. At the height of the ascent the capsule can be rotated to the left and right before being lowered back to deck level, however this option is only available on China sailings when the ride is chargeable. The ride, which carries 15 people at a time, needs to be pre-booked but you can also wait in the stand-by queue in the hope that someone doesn't show up. No bookings are required on port days, which means it is possible to ride twice: once while the ship is at sea (with a prior booking) and once while in port provided you are prepared to line up. The North Star can be privately booked for special occasions, for a fee. There is a height restriction for children of 1.06 metres, and kids less than 1.21 metres must be accompanied by a supervising companion of at least 14 years of age. The maximum rider weight is 136 kg. The small platform to the immediate right after exiting the North Star is a great spot for taking selfies and photos of the capsule's exterior.
Away from the lounging areas around the pools, the standalone sun deck is situated on Deck 15. It is a shared space with the wraparound promenade and running track (the latter is very close to the end of the loungers) and on the same deck as the North Star, so it can be quite a busy thoroughfare. Nevertheless, it's a quieter space for those who want to escape the bustle of the main pools, and there are plenty of loungers. Suite passengers benefit from their own private sunbathing area on Deck 16.
Ovation of the Seas Services
The main services are located on Decks 4 and 5. Guest services is situated midship on Deck 4, directly opposite Boleros, and is open 24 hours. Members of staff are on hand to help with reservations, such as North Star, iFly and dining, and to deal with any problems. The guest services team on our sailing were some of the friendliest and most efficient we have encountered on any ship. Passengers can also make their own reservations by using the Royal IQ tablets located nearby; there is always someone to help navigate through the system if required. Dining reservations can be made at the desks outside the Silk and American Icon Grill restaurant on Deck 4, and the Chic and The Grande restaurants directly below on Deck 3.
The mall-like retail area is the Royal Esplanade, spread over two levels on Deck 4 and 5. There are plenty of high-end boutiques selling famous-name luxury watches, Swarovski crystal jewellery, designer clothes and sunglasses. To cater for the Asian market, the beauty and cosmetic store now carries an enlarged range of products, including a number of Asian brands. Port Merchants is the ship's duty-free drink and cigarette store, and reasonably priced souvenirs such as mugs, soft toys and models of the ship, along with Royal Caribbean logowear, can be found in the kiosk in the centre of the lower level of the Royal Esplanade.
A small library containing mostly novels can be found on Deck 6, leading from the upper level of Two70. The shelves are always open and passengers can borrow books as they please. One section of the library houses the small Internet cafe, which has three computers and a printer available for passenger use. There is no dedicated card and games room. A one-day "Surf" package, suitable for checking emails, surfing the web and sharing photos on social media, is priced at US$64.95 (A$84.68) for a five-day voyage. A 24-hour "Surf + Stream" package that can also be used to stream TV shows, films and music costs US$89.95 (A$117) for five days. Internet charges for 24 hours continuous use start at US$19.99 (A$26) per day for "Surf" and cost US$27.99 (A$36.50) per day for "Surf + Stream". Special Internet deals are also available, so check the daily program for details. Connection and Internet speed were both excellent throughout our cruise.
The Focus Photo Gallery is located on Deck 5 and, as you would expect from such a technologically savvy ship, it's completely digital. Instead of hunting through vast racks of printed photographs, passengers go to a computer station and scan their SeaPass or wristband. Face-recognition software then shows any photos that have been taken and these can be selected and saved in an album for a later date, or purchased there and then. Photos are available as digital copies, prints or both. The gallery has a private studio and also sells cameras and other photographic equipment.
Also located next to each other on Deck 5 are the shore excursion desk and a desk to book future cruises.
Ovation has a conference centre, comprising four rooms that can be converted into one large meeting space, at the back of the ship on Deck 13.
There are no self-service public laundry rooms.