Fabulous itinerary - Ship needs Extreme Makeover
Fort Lauderdale (Port Everglades)
We chose this cruise for the itinerary - four new ports our of five (St. Croix, St. Martin, Dominica, Antigua and St. Kitts). We had been to St. Martin before and always enjoy coming back. We were not disappointed -- very enjoyable cruise overall. I will talk more about each port and our shore excursions below, but first more about the cruise. The ship is set for dry dock and refurbishment in Spring 2013 and not soon enough in my opinion.
We saw a lot of worn, stained carpets, scratched up walls, missing and damaged artwork, and outdated furnishings. Our room had 3 doors that would not latch, drapes that would not close all the way and lots of squeaking/rattling from loose fixtures. Maintenance was only able to fix one door. We were told no parts for the rest. Our most recent cruises were on the Oasis and Allure so this made the Vision seem tiny in comparison which is unfair. It is a lovely little ship with everything in short distance (too much walking on More
Oasis class). Many rooms serve double duty which is usually fine but...library/cigar room?? Smokey books?? What were they thinking?? Viking Crown lounge already smells like an ashtray, put the cigar room up there. The only thing we missed on the smaller Vision was the lack of specialty restaurants and in-room wi-fi which will both be added during the Spring refurb.
We were pleasantly surprised to receive an upgrade to a Royal Family Suite (8 persons max/2 baths/1 tub/large balcony) before departure. We enjoyed the perks that went along with the suite including priority service, ship tours, fruit basket/cheese plate and welcome reception for suite guests. We may even look at getting a different suite in the future because of our experience with suite cruising; however, we cannot recommend this suite on the Vision currently due to the worn fixtures and furnishings and its placement immediately below the pool deck (noisy!!!).
With only a few minor exceptions, the crew was as knowledgeable, friendly, and helpful as we have come to expect from RCCL. Our room attendant Oliver was exceptional. The concierge was able to switch our poor dinner table assignment (cramped, dark, loud table in traffic at the back of the room) to a larger well-lit table closer to a window. (We would love to know why many of the prime window tables were largely empty and unused - what a waste!) Our waiter Angelito was entertaining and attentive to our every need. Bar service ranged from excellent to poor. No bar service for reserved balcony suite guests in Masquerade theater; only main floor got service.
Food was very good to excellent but often only lukewarm when it reached the table. No food warmers? The only disappointing meal was the Surf and Turf - mediocre steak quality and 4 small shrimp instead of lobster - has been better on past cruises. Coffee needs to be more consistent as well; ranged from extremely strong and burnt first night to weak and watery the next. Nice selection of yummy dishes in Windjammer but someone needs to teach the chef how to make light flaky biscuits instead of dry, flour-y hockey pucks. Would have liked to see more non-dairy desserts but that is personal preference not a failing.
All of the shore excursions were excellent, but poor communication and organization by RCCL caused much frustration and dissatisfaction. RCCL excursions website still not user friendly and no customer support (phone or email) when error message while booking excursion online. But most aggravating was locating the tour leaders in port. The St. Martin tour ticket said group would meet on the pier ASHORE. We got off the ship 10 minutes early and walk down the pier to the shore. No tour group. We look and ask everywhere. Time's running out. No tour group. We finally walk all the way back down the pier and find them BY THE SHIP. We learn there was one guy with a clipboard and NO TOUR SIGN on a pier teaming with THOUSANDS of people who was supposed to tell us to meet by the ship. RCCL tried to make it our fault that we didn't see this guy. On St. Kitt's, the Quad ATV tour left without us and the bus had to come back despite fact we were in the crowded terminal 10 minutes before tour start time but again unable to find tour leader. Tour sign was a faded blue piece of copy paper the girl was holding waist high folded over. No one could read it. Other cruise lines had brightly colored, easy to spot wooden signs held up high for their shore excursions. RCCL even has these big tour signs on other itineraries but not this one. See details of excursions in ports below.
Not up to the usual standard we have come to expect from Royal Caribbean entertainers. The only show we all liked was Matthew and Gunnar Nelson tribute to Ricky Nelson. We walked out on two other "headliner" shows with poor singers. Tribute to Disco...ugh!! The glow in the dark puppet show was good but strangely mixed with guys cracking whips. Huh?! The Vision Orchestra was excellent and so was pool deck band, but Teddy's Band and the C Winds Band both need more practice and new lead sings. About fell out of my chair laughing at the bad falsetto, wrong lyrics, and screeching off key singing. Singers did not know English. Guest lecturer was dull as dishwater despite interesting topics such as True Pirates of the Caribbean and the Mayan Calendar.
This was a very enjoyable cruise with a wonderful itinerary and crew. We would do it again and recommend to anyone especially after Vision undergoes her extreme makeover. Oh, and the world did not end so we got to finish the cruise...Hooray! Less
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Port and Shore Excursions
I would give the port a 5 except for the fact that the shops were closed when we arrived and there was quite a bit of trash in the streets and in the water. We were scheduled for the Helicopter Tour of Montserrat Volcano but this shore excursion was cancelled the day prior due to mechanical difficulties. We were given to understand that this happens rather frequently so be sure to have a backup plan. RECOMMENDED: Wadadli Catamaran Sail & Snorkel tour. We were able to book this excursion instead of the helicopter and were glad we did. We would give this excursion a 5. The tour leaves from the dock adjacent to the pier. The catamaran had ample seating and was well kept. Water and soft drinks were served on the trip out to the reef. The reef itself was essentially dying with bleached out coral but there were a few fan coral and an abundance of fish thanks to generous helpings of bread crumbs. It was a good site for beginner to intermediate snorkelers. After snorkeling, the crew served strong rum punch and delicious sandwiches while sailing to a semi-private beach in a protected cove - a tropical paradise. Local vendors sold island paintings and handmade jewelry under palm trees as we relaxed in the warm sand and swam in the clear blue sea. As the sun began to dip low in the sky, we sailed back to the dock listening to Caribbean music and drinking rum punch.
If scuba certified for open water, be sure to do a dive on Dominica. We did a wall dive at L'Abym and a reef dive at Champagne Reef nearby. Despite some trouble with getting down and tooth squeeze, I was able to enjoy the amazing array of fish including spotted eel and seahorses and a rainbow of coral. Pain drove me out of the water on the reef dive but I was able to snorkel through the "champagne" bubbles venting from old lava flows and see more amazing fish. The dive masters were knowledgeable and very helpful in dealing with my dive issues. Bottled water was provided and most equipment included but a $10 fee was charged to rent a "shorty". Luckily we had brought extra cash as this was not mentioned in tour description. Stunning vistas on the boat ride out and back of Dominica's towering volcanic mountain peaks. Of all the islands we stopped at, Dominica was the most majestic.
Other members of our party who were not SCUBA certified went on this excursion and found it very enjoyable. No whales were spotted; however, dolphin were abundant and put on quite a show for the tour boat. Boat crew was knowledgeable and provided background on sea life found in the Caribbean. The port of Dominica shows some wear to the buildings but was very clean. A tent market is next to the pier but mostly knick-knacks from China at prices higher than elsewhere in the islands. Some trendy shops on side streets had better quality wares, but no bargains. Expect to pay full retail. Local water was $2 a bottle but as delicious as Fiji water since it is also sourced from volcanic springs on the island. The port area was strangely deserted as compared to other ports - only tourists and vendors. Traffic was almost nonexistent.
Beautiful island. Picturesque historic buildings right at the end of the pier. Limited shopping in a tent market in park by pier but main shopping area is a $7 taxi ride each way. Pay $14 to go shopping? No way! Excursion choices were surprisingly limited. Otherwise this port would get a 5 rating. Of note, driving is on the left here despite being a US territory. RECOMMENDED: The Buck Island snorkeling tour. After a short bus ride to the boat dock, we boarded a roomy dive boat (not the more common catamaran). Following a scenic boat ride out to the reef, we enjoyed decent snorkeling with a colorful variety of fish including 4 barracuda and some coral. Sadly, the reef had sea urchins and fire coral -- signs of decline like most shallow reefs in Caribbean now, but still in better shape than many we have seen. Strong swimmers were taken on an extended tour of the reef. Crew helped beginner snorkelers get out to the reef using tow rings. Delicious rum punch served after snorkeling had everyone in a party mood!
This is called the Quad Biking and Beach tour by RCCL. RECOMMENDED for the adventurous due to strenuous nature of ATV riding and walking over uneven ground. The tour left without us even though we were at the terminal 10 minutes before set tour time. There seemed to be some miscommunication between RCCL and the tour operator, Kantour, who didn't appear to know we were on the tour. The bus returned to pick us up luckily since this is a tour you would not want to miss. After a drive down the coast of this beautiful island, we arrived at a former plantation with lush grounds. The ATV tour was amazing and we give this part a 5+ rating. Following a brief tutorial on the ATVs and a practice turn around a track, we set out on dirt roads winding through sugar cane fields dodging goats and cattle. As we climbed the mountain, our guides stopped at a former sugar mill to tell us some local history. Then it was up into the twisting rainforest trails. As we returned back down the mountain, we stopped at another scenic spot overlooking the ocean for some bottle water and an informative talk from our guides, Addison and Kevin, about local plants and their medicinal uses. In retrospect, I would suggest bringing goggles and a handkerchief to cover the mouth due to the dust as well as wearing blue jeans for the tour. One tour member tipped her ATV going downhill and scraped up her leg but got back on and finished the tour. The former plantation is now the Nirvana restaurant where we had refreshments of fresh fruit punch and cake before boarding the bus to the beach. This part of the tour we rate as a 3. Instead of the relaxing break on a golden beach at a resort promised by RCCL's brochure, we were dumped off at a public beach by our driver who then took off. No beach chairs were provided. We were told we would have to pay $10 if we wanted to use them for the 45 minute break. We declined. The black volcanic sand beach was extremely hot and there was no shade so after a few minutes in the blazing hot sun we had to retreat to sit on the concrete steps in the shade of a bar. Not relaxing. The driver then returned early and demanded that everyone get on the bus immediately before hustling us back to the port. I would rather they left the beach break off of this tour.
RECOMMENDED. Other family members went on this tour and had a wonderful time. They did the Rail and Sail, although the Rail Tour can be done separately for those who do not like to sail. The tour began with a scenic sail around the end of the island (no snorkeling or beach stops) and then the group transferred to the rail terminal. The railway tour includes historical info about the island and plantations. During the trip, a choir sang holiday music with an island flavor. The tour returned to the port area which had an abundance of shops and restaurants. This was a good place to find bargains.
This was actually the Aquaboat and Jeep Tour. RECOMMENDED for the adventurous - minimal walking on flat ground but boat ride is hard on the joints. A very short bus transfer took us to the Jeeps - newer, well-maintained, roomy vehicles with A/C. Of note, driving is on the right (same as USA) despite being a Dutch/French territory. There's just no explaining Caribbean traffic rules, but at least the islanders are very polite and forgiving of driving faux pas. We shared driving with another couple. After a drive around beautiful St. Martin to the Aquaboat dock, we were given a brief tutorial and boarded the boats (similar to a jetski) for a wild ride along the coast. Do not take anything along that can't get wet. No place to store items on boats. Upon returning to the dock, back in the jeep for the drive to an upscale resort at Orient Beach. Lunch was on the pricey side but large tasty portions and includes beach chair. For those with small children or voyeuristic tendencies, Orient Beach is next to the nude beach and there was some...ahem...exposure. This is a relaxing stop with soft white sand beaches ringing turquoise waters. Once more to the Jeeps for the drive back with a stop at a scenic overlook ending with bus transfer back to the pier. Abundant and varied shopping at cruise port. Reasonable prices, some bargains.