To start, a little background on me and and my journey in planning this cruise. I'm 40 years old and this was my 33rd cruise. Prior to this sailing I have logged 238 days at sea on cruise lines that run the gamut from Carnival to Regent Seven Seas and everything in between. This was my 6th RCCL sailing, but I qualify for their Diamond level in the Crown and Anchor Society due to my Elite Captains Club status with sister line Celebrity Cruises.
I originally booked this cruise to sail as a solo traveler back-to-back with the 12/3/12 11 night cruise. I was really looking forward to this as the only island that would repeat in the 21 days would be Antigua, which is one of my favorites. I liked both itineraries immensely and really appreciated the fact that neither sailing stopped in St. Thomas. I specifically chose the Vision for a variety of reasons, one of which was that as a solo traveler I wanted to enjoy a more traditional cruise with a variety of table mates at dinner. The Visions lack of alternative dining seemed to lend itself more naturally to that goal. I also wanted to travel on at least one vessel in this class of ship that was virtually in her original floor plan and decor. The only major furnishings change to the ship since her launch in 1998 were in the windjammer, atrium and the solarium along with stateroom balconies.
The original bookings had me in a deck 4 category F ocean view #4010 for both segments. Sadly, in early August, I had to cancel the second segment due to work related commitments in early December. Darn that pesky work stuff! Once I settled on just doing the 11/23 sailing I decided to treat myself and splurge for a better cabin! By luck an aft Junior Suite (#8590) with an extended balcony was available! It was a bit more than I had planned to spend for the two cruises combined, but ya know, why not! Well, about 2 weeks later RCCL offed D1 balcony cabins at a resident discount that was too good to pass up, so I switched to cabin #7554, not a "WOW" balcony, but as I was planning on traveling solo it would suffice. Lo and behold, less than 5 days later an aft D1 with oversized balcony (#7656) became available. I snatched it up faster than you can blink even though it was a connecting cabin.
Now I have an amazing cabin and am about a month out from sailing. I'm all set to go - airfare and hotel all booked, a lively Cruise Critic Meet & mingle roll call going on, all my excursions booked, wine package booked ...... Man, I'm set! All of a sudden I happen to be chatting with my boyfriend Andrew one random Friday evening and somehow the idea of him joining me on the cruise comes up. At first I think it's all a bit of a chatty lark, us being wishful, but as the talk progressed what started off as a goof became a loosely framed plan. We have one of those odd transatlantic relationships that works for us, but the geography makes travel logistics a bit of a challenge. He lives in the Western part of Ireland so last minute airfare seemed prohibitive, and air service from Shannon airport at this time of year to the US is meager at best. Sadly I did not have enough mileage available on United to bring him over for the cruise, But I did have enough Delta miles to bring him from Dublin. Hey, this might work! He had 7 vacation days, but needed 9. Long story short, he got the extra days approved, I used my miles, we were able to add him to my booking for less than $350 and so, my solo cruise just turned into a romantic late fall cruise with my boyfriend! In the end I am so thankful that this happened as I enjoyed every minute we spent together on this trip.
So now to fast forward to the cruise itself.
We flew into Ft. Lauderdale the day before the cruise (Thanksgiving day) and stayed at the Hyatt Place on 17th street just a few blocks from Port Everglades. We had thanksgiving dinner with about 15 other Cruise Critic members and it was a great introduction to what turned out to be the most lively, fun and and friendly group I've ever encountered. The next morning we took a walk down to the beach and got a good look at the Vision berthed at terminal 4 along the way. After a quick stop at Publix grocery on the way back for a few last minute items, including 4 bottles of wine to take aboard, we headed back to the hotel and got our things together. At about 1130 we checked out and caught a cab to the pier. We were through security, check-in and onboard by noon. Everything was handled quickly, efficiently and with a smile. About 3 weeks prior to the cruise RCCL reversed their long standing ban on cruisers bring aboard bottled wine for in cabin consumption. Officially we were allowed 2 bottles per cabin, but we were able to bring 2 apiece without anyone even blinking an eye. Thank you Royal!
Once aboard we performed what I like to call the "embarkation day sneak", which basically consists of going to my room prior to it being officially ready and placing our hand luggage in the closet. When I do this I dash in and out, no tarrying around so as to not interfere with cabin stewards doing their jobs. After this we went on a quick tour of the ship in an attempt to familiarize ourselves with the Vision and also to avoid the mayhem and crowding so endemic in the buffet on embarkation day. One practice I wish RCCL would adopt would be to open the Main Dining Room on embarkation day for lunch. Once rooms were cleared we headed to the Windjammer around 115pm and it was virtually empty. Fresh food was in process of being laid out and we had a nice relaxed and tasty lunch. I am not the biggest fan of buffets, but I have to admit that the food here was consistently hot, fresh and well prepared throughout the entire trip.
After lunch we returned to our cabin to settle in and perhaps rest a bit before muster drill and sailaway. Our luggage had not yet arrived, but the champagne, chocolate dipped strawberries and red velvet cupcakes I'd ordered as a surprise for sailaway had! Andrew was so shocked as I'm not usually one for such gestures. We spent some time relaxing on our huge balcony and reviewing the ships daily and chatting about the cruise ahead.
The cabin was amply sized with more than adequate storage for a 10 day cruise. As mentioned before we were in an aft D1 connecting room with an oversized balcony (#7656). The room was about 190 square feet and was laid out quite well with a few exceptions. The bathroom door opened in an awkward manner blocking the entry/closet area and making dressing with the bath door open impossible. The bathroom itself was typical RCCL compact but had enough storage for all of Andrews gels, creams, unguents, pomades, lotions, potions, etc along with my measly assortment of toiletries. The shower, while not overly generous, proved to be adequate and over the course of the next 10 days the shower curtain and I would become more friendly than I'd ever hoped! The entry/ closet area in balcony rooms on the Vision feature wood floors, which is a nice touch and helps set them apart from standard interior and oceanview rooms. The beds a all located close to the bath and have their heads against the side wall. They were comfortable and when combined seemed to produce something more akin to a King bed than a Queen. The connecting door was opposite the bed and was well insulated. We never heard noise from the adjoining cabin. On the same wall as the bed was a nicely sized sofa which I could lay full down on with room to spare (I'm 6'1" tall), a small glass and brass cocktail table and across from the sofa a generous desk with additional drawers and storage along with a small flat panel tv.
The balcony itself was immense, at least fully 3/4 of the size of the room itself. Furnishings included two adjustable sun loungers, 2 dining chairs and a small dining table. All were relatively new and were of the blue mesh, faux teak wood and powder coated aluminum that is becoming standard as RCCL refurbishes all their ships. About 1/2 of the balcony is covered with an overhang which allows plenty of sun when desired, but still some opportunity for shade if preferred. This also allows protection from rain showers when dining alfresco, relaxing over a glass of wine, or often in Andrews case having a cigarette. The cabins on each side also had smokers and this non smoker never found the smell offensive or lingering. A soft breeze always seemed to draw the smoke away as if by magic. This particular balcony has one of the larger overhangs from above, some of the most floor space and is one of the few to not have a steel support beam running vertically from floor to ceiling in the middle of the rail. In short it is probably one of the best aft balcony options on this ship. We spent quite a lot of time out here and as is always the case with aft balconies, became quite social with our neighbors, usually sharing a recap of our days adventures at sailaway or sunset.
Our cabin steward Ricardo stopped by to introduce himself and ask if we needed anything. A small tip quickly brought about feather pillows, an egg crate topper, an ashtray, some extra hangers, and a big smile! Ricardo was truly superb at his job. He always greeted us with his award winning smile, often stopping what he was doing to enquire about our plans for the day or see if we had any additional needs. The room was always kept spotless, and for once I didn't play the game of "relocate the trash can".
The first of the luggage soon arrived and Andrew started to unpack while I napped on the sofa. Shortly muster drill took place. Life jackets are no longer required, however RCCL did have us all assemble on the open decks and a full roll call was performed. After muster we located the remaining luggage on the stair landing awaiting delivery. We took matters into our own hands, carried them to the room then headed up to the top aft deck for sailaway with our new cruise critic friends. After spending a short while there we made our excuses and snuck back to our room for our private romantic sailaway with my aforementioned goodies. The perfect start to a truly wonderful sailing.
After unpacking and dressing for dinner we headed to the Viking crown lounge for pre dinner drinks at the nightly Diamond event with some of our new friends we met via cruise critic. The wines served are no longer LaTerre as in the past (all were different brands) and were of decent quality. On offer were a Chardonnay, Cabernet, Merlot, Rose and California sparkling wine. A spread of hot and cold nibbles was on offer each evening and were constantly refreshed. Staff were attentive and generous with the wine! Most evenings a senior staff member, including the captain on several occasions, were on hand to chat with guests. All in a nicely done offering.
After a bit more wine than was probably prudent we made our way down to the Aquarius Dining Room. We had late seating at an assigned table towards the aft of the dining room by the window. From our table we had an excellent view of the entire room and ample space around the table. All chairs have arms and upholstered sides, and while comfortable can be a bit snug for the more amply proportioned cruiser. Our table was a four top bit it appeared we had no dining companions. In fact there was another couple assigned to our table who only showed for the last formal evening (thankfully, as it was not a well suited pairing). The rest of the cruise we had the table to ourselves and after the second night our wonderful waiter and assistant only set it for two. Francisco and Sunni took excellent care of us throughout the week and often shared in our joking over the assistant maitre'd (who we nicknamed "Borat") assigned to our section. She was very serious about her job and always checked in with us, but often our attempts at levity did not register. She tried to joke with us but did so by making some odd facial expressions more akin to suffering a stroke than giving an impression of humor. To my surprise the waitress assigned to the table beside us was one I had met on my previous RCCL cruise earlier in the year, an 8 night Bermuda sailing on the Enchantment from Baltimore. Decima had worked in Chops on that ship and had recently transferred to the Vision. She instantly recognized me and we soon started chatting and laughing. She's from Trinidad, which is a place I visit often for work so we always had something to chat about.
The food was consistently excellent throughout the cruise. Appetizers were portioned so as to give a nice taste, but not be too filling. Salads were varied, crisp and fresh. Soups were hot but not blistering, and never had too much salt, which has often been a complaint of past cruises. Entree choices were varied and were always hot, cooked to temperature and flavorful. Desserts were uniformly good though not excellent. The Vision has not switched to the new menu program yet, but I did not feel that the choices seemed old hat. The executive chef stopped by the table several times enquiring about our dining experiences and each time he had another member of staff with him - head sou chef, head pasty chef, etc. a very nice touch and it showed that he genuinely cared about the quality of food and that his guests were happy with what came out of his kitchen. Of course I wouldn't expect any less from a Spaniard, as they are notorious for their passion for quality dining.
We had preordered two wine packages (both platinum packages, totaling 15 bottles), but by day 7 it became apparent that the 10 bottle package would suffice and so I had guest relations refund the 5 bottle package. This, like everything else, was handled cheerful and efficiently. The selection of wines was adequate for our palates. Our waiter and assistant were excellent at ensuring that leftover wines were ready the next day and ensuring that wines were served when, and how, we preferred. Overall excellent value and a nice compliment to our evening dining experiences.
Sparing the play by play details, the next 10 days fell into a rhythm that was agreeable to us both. The four Sea days were generally relaxed and spent in enjoying each others company. Breakfast on the balcony, or a late breakfast at the windjammer, pool time, a late lunch (usually when the buffet changed over to afternoon snacks around 3pm), a short nap, pre show cocktails at the champagne bar or at the nightly diamond event, show, dinner, and if we could stay awake, a visit to one of the audience participation game shows. Port days were all fairly early off the ship and back shortly before sailaway. We seemed to have enough time to do all we wanted and the days slipped away.
As we became more familiar with the ship I was consistently amazed at what remarkable shape she is in. The ship was spotless throughout and overall showed little of the wear and tear one would expect of a nearly 15 year old ship. One notable exception were the blue tub chairs pool side at the dining tables. Many had flaking paint that could rub off on skin or clothing. Decor has held up well and does not seem dated or passe. The overall design scheme is sophisticated with pear-wood, teals and peach pastels predominate. Marble brass and mirror are used to elegant effect throughout and the artwork is tasteful, well arranged and worth taking the time to appreciate. Public lounges were ample, with comfortable seating and expansive windows everywhere so that one has an almost constant contact with the ocean. Sight lines in the Masquerade theater were excellent and seating plentiful. We arrived within 5 minutes of the shows and never had a problem with getting decent seats. There were few pool chair hogs and sun loungers were easily had. They were spaced with dividing rails so that one is not constantly jostled by people passing through. The solarium was tranquil, though on sea days the pool was not usually filled due to the ships motion and concerns for safety. The ship seems to move more than others in her class or size. Perhaps the stabilizers were not working properly or more likely not being utilized in order to save fuel. The casino had a variety of slots and games tables, was well used and never overpowered by smoke. I have more and more come to appreciate ships in this size range, and the Vision class in particular. I am excited that RCCL is investing in major refurbishments for them as it signals that the company understands that they have long lives ahead of them and are popular with their clientele.
The entertainment was hit or miss throughout. The production cast were new for this sailing and were mostly forgettable and amateurish. I was a bit let down in this area as it is something RCCL has always been known for. The shows themselves were well thought out and offered a good blending of songs, decent staging and costumes and a superb backing orchestra. The typical comedians, magicians, etc were all on offer and mostly fell into the passable but ho-hum category. There were several live bands for social dancing and all were excellent. Dance floors were well used and they seemed to vary the set list from evening to evening. The best entertainment aboard was the assistant cruise director, Topi. Hailing from Finland he had the perfect blend of humor, geekiness, and talent to keep audiences engaged. He performed an unplugged night in the Schooner bar one evening and the audience did not want him to stop. The piano bar player was truly dreadful, but I often find that the case on RCCL. I love the decor of the Schooner bars but really wish they'd find some better entertainers for them. Almost nightly there was some sort of audience participation game show held in the Some Enchanted Evening lounge and they provided good laughs. Other activities included karaoke, trivia, trivia and more trivia ...... Not being a trivia buff myself I don't quite get the mania for it. Obviously I'm in the minority as the sessions were always heavily attended. Poolside had the requisite band, though this particular group was better than most playing appropriate songs with a varied set list and at a volume that was not intrusive. Pool games were on offer but not to a degree so as to make the pool area unusable. I did con Andrew into the belly flop contest, which he lost, but was a good laugh nonetheless. On the second to last sea day the executive chef made Paella poolside and it was truly delectable! Overall we we well occupied and never want for entertainment or activity, yet still managed to find quiet if desired.
Our cruise critic group had their official meeting on the first sea day in the Showboat Lounge. It was well attended and thanks to one of the roll call members excellent suggestion for a mixer (everyone putting a postcard in a bucket, then drawing one and finding the owner) was lively and allowed us to meet many new people. The captain, cruise director, hotel director and several other senior staffers were in attendance. Non alcoholic punch and light snacks were on offer. We made some wonderful friends thanks to our cruise critic roll call and there was a core group of madcap, fun loving, outgoing individuals that we spent a fair amount of time socializing with throughout the cruise. These new friendships helped make the cruise a truly memorable affair and some hopefully long lasting relationships have been formed amongst us all! We had pre arranged several additional group functions including Thanksgiving dinner, sailaway, a cabin crawl on the second sea day and a end of cruise mixer on the second to last sea day. All of these were lively events that we looked forward to more and more as the cruise went on. Several group members booked private tours and ship sponsored excursions together and the fellowship of these served further to deepen the bonds amongst us. Andrew and I also hosted an impromptu sail away party on our balcony on our last port day and we had about 15-20 in attendance, all of whom fit easily on our balcony!
Our port experiences were varied and we took away many wonderful memories from each day. In Tortola we booked an independent sailing and snorkeling tour. The spots chosen for snorkeling and swimming were excellent, the crew friendly and the lunch delicious. Drinks were free flowing throughout and several of our cruise critic friends were in attendance. In St. Maarten we rented a jeep and toured the island starting with Maho beach to watch the KLM 747 land (a truly spectacular sight!) we continued up to Marigot for shopping in the market (we bough some delicious local flavored rum being sold by an eccentric Frenchman) then onto Grand Case for lunch in a seaside food shack that had exceptional island food. We capped off the day at Orient beach for a swim and short stroll. For Antigua we had planned to visit a local beach as we'd been there together earlier in the year and rented a jeep and toured the island. However the day before some of our new cruise critic friends convinced us to join them on a ships tour (Catamaran Cruise with Lobster Lunch). This was not a snorkel trip but did feature two swim spots with beautiful beaches. Several of our new friends had birthdays, anniversaries, etc during this cruise and we used this day to celebrate. The lunch was delicious and the large tender lobster tails were grilled to perfection. Next up Dominca where Andrew and I did another ships tour, this time to a waterfall followed by river tubing. A very relaxed day with a chance to appreciate the lush interior of this stunning island. Last up was St. Kitts where we had vowed to repeat our experience from our previous visit earlier in the year. On our previous visit this had also been our last port call and we spent the day at the Shipwreck beach bar where delicious home cooked island food, cheap cold beer, friendly staff, and loungers under palm thatched shades were plentiful at waters edge. An unspoiled vista spread out before us and the enjoyment of each others company had made this an idyllic day that we looked forward to recreating, which we did with immense success.
In conclusion this really was a special cruise, enhanced in so many ways by so many different factors, and is one I will remember long after. Mostly I am thankful for the time Andrew and I got to spend together and the Deepening of our bond as a couple which resulted. Secondly I am appreciative of the new friends made and experiences shared with them. Lastly I enjoyed a beautiful ship with wonderful staff, truly an experience that was more than I could have wished for in every respect. Each cruise I go on with RCCL seems to be better than the last and they have moved from being a line I oft overlooked to a primary cruising choice. This was one of those rare experiences in life were all the stars come into alignment, often as if by accident, to create magic.
Next up: Celebrity Constellation Transatlantic May 5th Miami to Amsterdam for 15 nights, full details to follow!