So the husband and I (early 30's) decided we couldn't stop traveling just because we had a kid. Especially cruising. And since most cruise lines make you wait until the kid at least six months old (the exception being Disney, but I can’t picture myself ever cruising with them because they are so much more expensive than any other mass market line) we booked a two week cruise to Northern Europe for almost immediately after the six month mark. Most people thought I was crazy when they found out we were doing this. From so many people I heard, ‘Wait, you’re taking a baby to Europe?’ Eventually I just started replying, ‘Do they not have babies in Europe?’
I'll leave out all the precruise stuff, and start with our arrival at the ship. Shortly after the fastest checkin/security scan/boarding process I have ever experienced, we were on board! Stateroom had the pack n play I requested, but did not have the medical fridge for the baby's milk. Stateroom attendant brought one when I asked her to. Very cramped quarters with two adults and a baby with two weeks worth of stuff in a tiny cabin. As a result of this, after a quick lunch at the Windjammer, where Baby made a bunch of new friends in the form of crew members, we returned to the cabin, Baby and Dad took a nap, and I did something I have never done in any of my 10 previous cruises-I unpacked! Usually just choosing to live out of our suitcases, this was very strange to me. It felt like we were moving in. Very strange. It was only after I finished organizing everything that I reached for my ipod to check the time. And it was gone! Stupid women’s pants that never have any room in the pockets and my stuff always falls out of. A quick glance around the minimal square footage confirmed it - it had fallen out during lunch. Drat. To add insult to injury, since I'm so used to my phone etc, falling out of my pocket when sitting down, I ALWAYS check my seat and the area around it when getting up from a seated position in any public place. This happened to be the ONE TIME I failed to do so. I was in luck, however, because some honest individual found it and returned it to guest services. Thank you, honest individual. I will also add that despite the mandate that 'All Guests Must Attend' the muster drill, we were told that since we had Baby with us only one of us had to go - since Dad and Baby were taking a nap at the time of the drill, I went and represented us.
We had 'Stateroom TV' on throughout the day. I was stunned that one of the channels available was not Animal Planet. It's not a cruise unless you watch at least episode of Meerkat Manor, so I wasn't sure at that point if the trip will be a success. Between that and the relatively recent change to the gratuity video that had been the same since about 1975, apparently nothing is sacred anymore. :P
The only hitch in our day was when we tried to go to the show the first night, but Baby was having none of it, so we had to leave to avoid disturbing other guests. We did make it to the sailing under the Great Belt Bridge, however, which was well worth it. There were only a handful of people on deck for it...I'm really surprised the captain didn't mention it during her afternoon announcements.
At the end of the first leg of the cruise we had to go to a consecutive cruisers meeting. Wasn't really worthwhile, but we did receive confirmation that there would be a special lunch for us in the dining room at noon. A fair amount of time was spent on the procedure for changing rooms, which I only half paid attention to because I specifically booked the same room for both cruises. Thus the unpacking for the first time ever. Why would anyone want to change rooms, I wondered...and then, later, while relaxing in our minuscule all we could afford if we wanted to do two weeks cabin while Baby napped - I got the call. Claudia from guest services wanted to know if I would like to be upgraded to an ocean view room, which is also larger than our current inside cabin - at no charge. Ummm, yes please. Didn't even consult with husband, bad wife that I am. :P
We also attended the farewell show at night...the act that performed at the Welcome Show performed a new bit for this one. Los Pampas Gauchos. Argentinean drums and dance. It was excellent, and we quickly realized that if we had stayed for the first show no one would have actually heard Baby fussing because the drums were so loud. But that's the beauty of a back to back...you get another chance! They were so good we saw them at the welcome show the next night and a repeat of this performance on our last night. They were truly the only good entertainment in two weeks onboard. The production cast was on the last week of their contract, and thank goodness for that, because they were terrible. First show was so bad we didn't even go to the 2nd. And the 2nd week the new cast was rehearsing most of the week so they only did one show, and it was the one we had already seen, so we skipped it. The other offerings weren't appealing to us, perhaps because of our age. The rest of the entertainment was definitely geared towards the older crowd. But I could have watched the Gauchos every night.
We got a late start the next day, because my husband is even less of a morning person than I am, and that's really saying something. Collected new Sea Pass cards and were on our way to the Carlsberg Brewery. Had to use three different credit cards to get one to work at the 711 for the purchase of our train tickets. (If the USA would speed up the roll out of Chip and Pin cards, this would not have had to happen. And when I say the USA, I really mean Capital One, as they are the only credit card company I know of that does not have a foreign transaction fee imposed on international purchases.) Train was crowded...a local said that there were some problems had caused some cancellations and that's why there were an unusually high number of people on the train that morning. Signs lead the way to the brewery, so I didn't even need the map I used internet time to print. (Good thing the minutes were free with our previous Emerald status - otherwise it costs $0.65 per minute!) Brewery tour included two beverages each - I don't like beer so I just got a soda and then gave my other ticket to Husband, who was then able to try three different types. His favorite was the Carlsberg Dark Lager.
Made it back to the ship just in time to go to the lunch, which was very nice. Was then properly awarded our earned Diamond status. Yay! Only took me 10 years. Highlights of our new level: a bunch more free internet minutes, free photo of our choice, larger balcony discount for future bookings, and, on most ships, the Diamond Lounge. For the those that are unaware: the lounge offers free specialty coffees all day and free cocktails in the evening. However, our ship is older and won't be refurbished until this winter - so it is lacking in a Diamond Lounge. As a general rule, ships where this is the case offer a special area of the dining room where specialty coffees are served at breakfast, and then a lounge is borrowed for the 'Exclusive Diamond Event,' where wine, beer, and soda are free, and everything else is discounted. However, in the case of the wonderful Vision of the Seas, the Event is held in the 2nd level of the Viking Crown Lounge (my favorite spot on the ship!), and not only did they comp all drinks, there was a delightful spread of snacks put out each night as well-fruits, veggies, cheeses, a selection of hot appetizers, and desserts. Awesome perk! The time we spent there over the next week was wonderful. It has been said by some that children are not permitted in the lounge during cocktail hours, but baby was welcomed in, and for the most part behaved himself.
The only real issue we had with either cruise our with the shore excursions desk. I hate doing ship's tours. They are overpriced, disorganized, often canceled, etc, so I avoid them like the plague. However, Norway has such a short tourist season that I found it difficult to prebook much of anything independently, so I was stuck. Our tour tickets had failed to have been delivered, and I had asked about them the day before and I was promised they would arrive that night. They didn't, so the next day I went and waited in a very disorganized line to get them reprinted. The agent at the desk acted as if I had inconvenienced her with my request. After she basically threw the tickets at me, I then had the audacity to inquire about our two tours I had booked for Geiranger, since it was to be a tender port I wanted to know if we had to come all the way back to the ship to meet te second tour. (There was supposed to be 45 minutes between tours.) She yanked the tickets back from me, glanced at them, and snapped 'These tours overlap, you can't do both. Pick which one you want to cancel and then come back.' And then basically threw the tickets back in face. Not on vacation me would have gotten in her face and demanded her supervisor, but the desk was mobbed and on vacation me didn't want to start a huge scene. So I took the tickets back to the room to revise my plan. I did mention this incident on my comment card, and I hope the offending agent is reprimanded. Not the usual smiling, over the top service I am used to.
Apparently these reviews have the ports done separately, but Aalesund and Geiranger Norway are not on the list, so I will mention them here. In Aalesund we booked the Path of the Trolls excursion through cruise ship. Very nervous about this one, as it was our first large group tour. And 8 hours long. I almost cancelled it a half a dozen times over the past week, every time Baby got really fussy. I kept saying, 'we can't do this tour - he's going to fuss on the bus!' Husband promised me all would be fine. And he was right. The tour was wonderful, and Baby was such a good little boy! People kept telling us how cute and well behaved he was. A few minor fits over the course of the 8 hours, but in general he did marvelously. Ran out of steam at the end and had a mini meltdown as we were headed back to the ship, but I think that was to be expected at the end of such a long day. In Geiranger we had originally booked the Geiranger Highlights tour and a tour to a mountain farm. Turns out the farm tour not only had a time change, but a destination change as well, so I cancelled both tours and rebooked a more extensive highlights tour. This was probably Baby's worst day. He was very fussy at the fjord center so we had to watch the photo slideshow presentation separately. I went first, while Husband dealt with the screaming, and then I took over. During my shift I walked through the exhibition hall, and the only thing that calmed the screaming child down was an area that mimicked an avalanche with wind, fog, and a great deal of noise. He would stop screaming and cling to me. I ended up skipping the rest of the exhibit and standing in the avalanche area for the duration. The viewpoint was gorgeous, and Baby finally fell asleep on the way to the top of the mountain, where it was 1500 meters above sea level and snowing. I hadn't had much of a breakfast due to getting a late start and was really hungry, so we ended up buying two candy bars at the little shop at the summit - for $8. Ludicrous. But I was really hungry, and they were quite good. Not $4 a piece good, but tasty nonetheless. After the tour ended we walked to the main street in the 'town'. It takes one minute to get to and about 15 seconds to walk the length of. I think there are six businesses on it. The last one was a chocolate shop that was giving free samples of chocolate made with cheese. This was supposed to be one of the things we sampled at the farm, so between that and the copious amounts of goats that we saw throughout the day, I'm glad I redid the tour plan as I did. (The chocolate made with cheese didn't taste like cheese...I don't know what it tasted like. And I'm not sure if I liked it or not. It was very strange.)
Other ports are listed separately. Some general notes on the cruise and everyone's reaction to Baby. He was extremely well received. I think I was more put off by his occasional bouts of fussiness than anyone else. We got tons of glowing compliments from other passengers, a lot of whom asked his name and would stop to say hello to him whenever they saw us. (Not going to lie, there were a very few number of people who gave him the evil eye, but it was always when he was totally behaving, so they were probably just of the uptight 'why on earth would anyone want to bring a baby on a cruise' crowd. I chose to ignore them. There was one woman who gave us dirty looks for the first three days or so in the dining room at dinner time, but by day 4, presumably when she realized he was not being at all disruptive, she started to smile at him. Way to convert the haters, son!) And the crew adored him! I had heard 'the crew loves babies,' 'the crew misses their family and thus wants to interact with babies,' etc, when I was researching, and it really seemed to be true. Everyone, from the security offers to the dining staff to the senior officers, knew his name and came out of their way to say hello. It was great! Yes, I know they are *supposed* to be nice - but they didn't have to be that nice. Also, Baby was the youngest cruiser both weeks, and probably one of about three our four 'little' kids on the whole ship. As such, I assumed due to lack of interest that there was no Royal Babies and Tots activities taking place. I never saw anything about it the whole two weeks. Then on the last full day of our second leg of the trip, the counselor in charge called our room because she 'hadn't seen [Baby] at playgroup all week and wanted to be sure everything was all right.' I was floored. We ended up going to a play session after breakfast. We were the only ones there for a while, but eventually two other little ones showed up with their parents.
Some other notes...we ate dinner in the MDR every night, and lunch when available. It was actually quite thrilling to be on a ship that had no upcharge dining options. The new menus were great. We had a table just for the three of us, near the door as I requested, just in case we needed to make a quick exit. Ended up not being necessary as Baby did very well. The kitchen staff pureed veggies for him so he could have more than just milk for dinner.
Disembarking in Copenhagen was a breeze - no customs. Just walked right off and caught the train to the airport. Made it from our stateroom to outside the terminal in about three minutes. Also, the crew was top notch. And I saw and had more interaction with the Sr. Officers on this trip than probably all of my other cruises combined. Wonderful people. The Vision is very well maintained, and I didn't miss the shopping mall that is the Royal Promenade one bit. I would definitely cruise on her again!