RCCL Vision of the Seas February 15, 2013
We flew into South Florida a day before the ship's departure, (which I highly recommend), and stayed at the Sleep Inn, Dania Beach, (Fort Lauderdale). This clean but moderately priced hotel suited us perfectly. Beside the hotel was a drug store, and the little strip mall across the street had three restaurants, and a grocery store. Being without a car, having these stores and restaurants close by was a great convenience. Also, if you have reached that magic age of greater wisdom, book directly using the hotel's web site, and receive a discounted seniors' rate.
Although this was only our second Royal Caribbean cruise, we have sailed five or six times with the sister company, Celebrity. We have also cruised numerous times with "the competition".
Embarkation: We boarded within 25 minutes of arriving at the pier, and were sitting in the Windjammer having lunch very soon after. At embarkation check-in a very friendly agent even paused to remark on my upcoming birthday and our wedding anniversary. Both were being celebrated during the cruise. A nice warm touch, and an indicator of how well and courteously we would be treated on the ship.
Accommodation: We had an ocean-view cabin which although a little smaller than other ships we have sailed on, was quite functional. In fact we emptied all of our suitcases, and still had plenty of drawer space to spare. A surprising feature, or lack of, was the absence of a refrigerator in the stateroom. We don't usually put a lot in the 'fridge, and our room steward kept us supplied with ice, so it wasn't really missed. Our
room steward was great. Although we rarely saw him, our stateroom was always made up in the morning, and the bed turned down at night. He displayed some of his artistic talent, surprising us with "towel animals" most evenings.
Entertainment: Entertainment in the Masquerade Theater featured a comic illusionist, a female singer, a comedian, two acrobatic "gauchos", a harmonica player, and several production shows by the Vision of the Seas singers and dancers, backed by ships orchestra. All of the guest entertainers were reasonably talented and entertaining, although in my opinion, the harmonica player, was not a good fit for this type of audience. Overall I would rate the entertainment at 3.5 stars out of 5.
We always look forward to what I refer to as "Seminars at Sea". These are usually daily educational talks about the history, geography, and current culture of the ports being visited on the voyage. However, on "Vision" the guest speaker was almost as effective as a sleeping pill. The information would have been interesting had it not been presented in a monotone and without any real degree of enthusiasm. We attended one lecture, but never went back for any more.
Dining: The food in the dining room was pretty well standard cruise line fare, not unlike what you would find in any quality restaurant in North America. There certainly seemed to be enough variety so that even the pickiest eater could find something to enjoy. Service at dinner was always exceptional. However, the few times we ate breakfast in the dining room, service was spotty at best, and most times we felt the wait staff were waiting for us to leave as quickly as possible. The Windjammer provided the usual buffet variety of meats,vegetables, desserts, and fruits. We were always able to put together a reasonably tasty meal whenever we ate breakfast or lunch there. Tucked away in a corner of the Solarium was another little area serving sandwiches, pizza, salads, hot dogs, and hamburgs. The pizza was always good, as were the three or four varieties of sandwich prepared fresh daily. The hot dogs and hamburgs were good whenever you could find one that was hot. Early in the voyage this was not always the case. Later on, (for a few days anyway), they stopped setting the wieners and patties out buffet style, and cooked them to order, which ensured they were hot when served.
Summary: The ship was always neat and clean, and contrary to what I read in other reviews, I could not see any significant signs of wear or deterioration. The current plan is to put "Vision" into dry-dock for refurbishment in September of this year. The staff and crew were exceptional. There was no request that went unfulfilled - always courteously, and with a smile. These folks work up to sixteen hours a day, and yet they are never without a smile or a kind word for the passengers. Our waiters from the dinning room usually finished their shift at 11:00 - 11:30 P.M. Yet, there they were in the Windjammer at 6:00 A.M. - and one or the other always stopped to chat with us whenever he saw us having breakfast.
At any given time we can usually find lengthy and heated discussions on Cruise Critic's Boards about tips and tipping. Anyone begrudging these men and women their recommended minimum gratuity, should picture themselves working up to 16 hours a day, seven days a week, for 6 months straight without a day off, and away from their families.
It was a good cruise, with several interesting ports. However, I question the choice of Martinique as a port of call. There seems to be a less enthusiastic approach to tourism and tourists, and it's an extremely long walk from the pier to the business/shopping center of Fort de France although cabs are available. If you do visit Martinique, the Euro is the currency of choice.
As is usually the case on all of our cruises, we were privileged to have at our dinner table some interesting and charming people from several of the U.S. states. The camaraderie and interesting conversations at dinner with these wonderful folks turned a good cruise experience, into an exceptional one.
Anyone who hasn't, should try to experience at least one cruise vacation. I guarantee it won't be your last.