Great First Time cruise through the Panama Canal though: Vision of the Seas Cruise Review by DosMariasFromSF
Overall Member Rating
Great First Time cruise through the Panama Canal though
Destination: Panama Canal & Central America
Embarkation: San Diego
Vision of the Seas
April 2013 West to East (San Diego to Ft Lauderdale)
Room 2072 (Senior Citizens , no children)
Overall, a very rewarding experience, though it did not start off well.
1 , San Diego Terminal embarkation , major delays lasting over 3 hours standing in line (especially taxing on the feet and knees of senior citizens as places to sit were few and far between). No satisfactory explanation as to the delay , whether due to TSA, the San Diego Port Authority, or RCI , whether staff shortages or technical problems , nothing explained. By the time boarding was allowed, any ship specials were ignored due to frustration and fatigue. Everyone gave a "poor/failure" grade on RCI's customer survey form for the embarkation process.
Based on reading other reviews on this website, it seems that starting a cruise on RCI on the East Coast from Florida goes rather smoothly But West Coast More passengers seem to be subjected to a 3-hour wait
2 , Food , no problems here except the coffee (other reviewers also noted the bad coffee on ship , we made do by making steamed milk and making our own lattes , more palatable that way). Otherwise, variety and quality were all excellent. However, since I've cruised many times with NCL Norwegian Cruise Line whose ships have many restaurants, I was surprised on how few venues there were to eat on such a large ship. But the ship is headed for a refit in September 2013 , supposedly, the under-utilized areas are going to be reconfigured to become another restaurant. Reviewer Richieline is correct in that the breakfasts were faster buffet-style in the Windjammer than the main dining room. But the main dining room offers breakfast both in a traditional order-menu (slow service due to limited morning personnel) and buffet-style (just as good as the Windjammer).
3 , Casino and Bingo , nothing special compared to other cruise lines - there's plenty of variety of games for anyone , won enough to pay for several on-shore excursions (yea!) , what was surprising was how "generous" the slot machines could be; usually, I avoid the slot machines on board a cruise ship as slot machines are generally programmed not to give that many payouts (why would a cruise line's casino bother as they know that they have a "captive" audience who cannot go to a different casino!) , but on Vision of the Seas, my friend won a modest amount.
4 , Entertainment , like any cruise line, there are good shows, bad ones and so-so ones. The best was the "Tribute to the Temptations" , both performing on stage and pleasant personalities when I chatted with a few of them off-stage. And like other reviewers have mentioned, the Vision of the Seas Orchestra was excellent as well as the live combo shows. More than enough trivia contests and variety of subjects to keep one's mind pleasantly occupied and a good way to socialize with fellow passengers.
5 , Spa and the Ships' Bridge Tour , didn't do either of them due to costs , I know that the airlines are charging for everything that used to be free and/or charging more for other services , same for cruise ships it seems , a "behind a scenes tour" of the ship's bridge used to be free on NCL in 2005 - better to buy the DVD at the end of the cruise , gives a quick tour of the bridge-galley-and engine room.
6 , Guest Lecturer - Dr Tom Ryan , I second Mea member critique , Dr. Ryan's presentations were FANTASTIC and "thank you" as well , this was Dr. Ryan's 194th trip through the Canal , we attended his first day lecture with about 25 other people without knowing who or what he was , the next day's lecture had about 300 people attending (word spreads FAST!) , the guy REALLY knows what he's talking about and does it in an friendly engaging manner , if he's ever aboard your ship, be absolutely sure to listen to his talks; you won't be disappointed! (found out recently that one of his lectures is on You Tube)
7 , On-Shore Excursions - we took advantage of a recommendation of Dr. Ryan's on-shore tours. My friend and I originally booked the "Panama City Experience" (item # CO55 on RCI's website). But we changed it to # CO26 , the Panama Canal Tour. Though it seems a duplication of effort of going BACK through the Canal only in a smaller boat, Dr. Ryan is correct in that one gets a great appreciation of the scale of the Panama Canal , when one is onboard a large cruise ship, you can't really see/feel the locks in operation or look at the wildlife in the distance. Good advice from Dr. Ryan and well worth it.
A warning concerning Item # GQ22 , the Best of Colonial Antigua in Puerto Quetzal, Guatemala , RCI warns that Antigua is 5,000 ft above sea level, but all of us were taken by surprise when we were told that there would be a lot of walking. The description just mentioned the air-conditioned bus ride from dockside to town, but no mention of any significant walking. Also, those "mild-medium-strenuous" symbols for on-shore excursions should be notched up for Guatemala for senior citizens. The cobblestones in Antigua can be REALLY treacherous , extremely uneven , one can easily sprain an ankle (one member of our group did have a serious fall and was taken by ambulance). Though the people of Guatemala were very friendly, be prepared for extreme poverty at this port. I'm not sure if it was intentional, but RCI's DVD at the end of the cruise does not show Guatemala (however, the DVD does show all the other ports)
Cartegena, Colombia also has cobblestones in the old town section , BUT those cobblestones are worn smooth and set well in the ground, making for a much easier and pleasant walking experience. I really liked my tour of Cartegena and had a nice grin to myself when I visited the very impressive fort of San Felipe as I was thinking of the Michael Douglass-Kathleen Turner movie Romancing the Stone.
That'll do it for me , as other reviewers on this website have said, I also highly recommend that anyone take at least one cruise through the Canal. We had great weather (even though one knows that there is heat and humidity at these sites, the weather can still slow you down). The rainy season for Panama started almost as soon as we left Cartegena on our way to Ft Lauderdale (keep that in mind for anyone considering a Canal cruise in October). Less
StarBreeze Panama Canal
Island Princess Panama Canal
Overall, A Good Trip