Vision of the Seas gleamed after its dry dock in Cadiz. Having never sailed on her, I had no frame of comparison before and after. The understated décor in maroon, purple, and brown is juxtaposed with a full neon spectrum of color circling each deck of the Centrum. The artwork leans toward shapeless abstractions. Ironically, it's a ship that seems to lack a clear vision for its identity, but there's also much to recommend.
It’s an easy ship to learn, with large new touch screens in the corridors to help you get from Point A to B, and even view daily Compass activities.
An initial sewerage odor in the aft stair tower dissipated after a day or so.
I heard the average passenger age for this 13-night westbound transatlantic crossing was 67, with about 180 Americans among roughtly 1,600 passengers of many other nationalities.
Lisbon: Loved it. This was my first visit, and I stayed in the Chiado, a few blocks from the river Tagus. It was walkable (hilly) and picturesque, with friendly people. Not all the locals speak English, but with a few key Portuguese phrases and a lot of smiling and pointing, I got by just fine.
Cabin: My balcony cabin (7038) had plenty of closet space and shelves, including a narrow shelving unit in a pristine, brand-new bathroom (unfortunately, they didn’t replace the clingy shower curtains with doors).
Gadget junkies may find the two 110v and two 220v outlets at the vanity problematic. I packed an international adapter and a 3-outlet power strip so I could keep stuff running and charged – and blow-dry my hair simultaneously.
This cabin had a full-length sofa, a comfortable bed with fresh linens, and was so homey I spent many afternoons reading there. TV reception was spotty in mid-ocean.
Crew and Officers: I requested an ice bucket from Marites, my friendly cabin stewardess, with a trade-off on towel animals so as not to create extra work for her. But she did both anyway and took great care of me. The officers were out and about a lot, and crew were friendly and pleasant, particularly R and Schooner bar staff.
Food: In the main dining room, I quickly learned to taste before adding salt. Lobster was never served, but available for $29.95. Escargots were nightly appetizers. I had no luck with beef or pork – always tough and dry. But seafood and pasta dishes were consistently well-prepared. Bread and rolls were always a highlight -- delicious, warm, and with real butter. But I would have liked more whole grains. I enjoyed every dessert I tried.
The Solarium had a new no-charge Park Café featuring fruit, paninis, and quesadillas, great light lunch or afternoon snacks.
The Windjammer buffet had many dinner-style entrees at lunch. With food stations scattered, no trays, and no partner to stake out a table from which to make multiple trips, I found it challenging to assemble a simple burger and fries meal. I found meat and a bun (and fries) at one station, had to go elsewhere for tomatoes, lettuce, etc., then to a 3rd station for condiments, and a 4th station for a drink – juggling a plate and utensils.
Room Service: I ordered breakfast in most days and it always arrived on time, but options are limited. I miss the lox with bagels. An acquaintance in a junior suite told me her fruit plate always had strawberries, but mine never did. Are strawberries following lobsters, only offered to those willing to pay a premium?
Again, the pastries were always fresh and delicious. Too bad those skills can’t translate to the grill stations.
Alternative Restaurants: I believe the 3 specialty restaurants were all new. The weakest link was Izumi, the sushi restaurant. The food was so-so, and the staff kind of clingy. To be fair, it was only their second night in business so they probably hadn't hit their groove, and the place was deserted.
Giovanni’s Table was also dead and they let us walk in on a moment’s whim. The antipasti and pasta were delicious, and the lamb chops were meatier than I’d gotten in the dining room.
Chops was elegant perfection. My companion had buttery-tender filet mignon. My beef short ribs were savory. The large sides, served family-style, created a feast we could barely dent.
Noise: Passengers on Deck 8 complained to the officers at a Q&A session of being disturbed by carts around the pools and buffet on Deck 9 in the wee hours, and blamed the carts' hard wheels. The officers seemed to take serious note of the suggestion to switch to pneumatic tires, so maybe that problem will be corrected. My cabin on Deck 7 was quiet.
Entertainment: This was my 39th cruise, and I attended a few shows with the usual assortment of comedians, singers, dancers, jugglers. Now they’ve got acrobats swinging around the Centrum at odd moments. Live entertainment is not one of my cruise essentials; the ship itself is my destination. One improvement was that all shows for late seating were at 7 p.m., rather than after dinner, so everyone could get a good night’s sleep and still have plenty of time to socialize.
A movie screen above the pool was a dry dock addition, and seemed more an annoyance than an attraction. There were no “movie nights” featuring newer movies you might want to see. Every time I walked by during the day, they seemed to be reshowing "The Wizard of Oz" or some tennis match.
The Centrum has a new R Bar, a stage with room for a 5- or 6-piece band, a large dance floor, and lots of seats. It’s a great place for drinks, live music, and dancing between 6-8:30 p.m., when most ships are particularly dead. But too many nights, the Centrum give way at 8 p.m. to dance lessons for a handful of passengers, forcing the rest of us to watch or flee. Unfortunately, the escape route to the Schooner Bar was also cut off because it got commandeered simultaneously for trivia contests.
Suggestion to RCI: Keep activities with limited appeal and participation OUT of the main public spaces between 6-8:30 p.m.
The Centrum has a new grand marble staircase where I almost broke my neck twice. There’s an “invisible” step on the landing I kept missing. If they don’t mark the edge with colored tape, beware.
Chair Hogs: We had 9 days at sea, and by 9 a.m. at the pool and in the Solarium, maybe 20% of the lounge chairs would be occupied, and the rest covered with towels and personal junk. RCI says they’ll free up vacant chairs after 30 minutes, but I never saw it happen.
Ports: We docked at St. Maarten, St. Kitts, and St. Croix. My favorite was St. Kitts. But this is a ship review.
I love a westbound crossing with many relaxing sea days that keep getting longer, so I arrive home without jet lag. I met some wonderful fellow passengers and had five singularly delightful dinner companions (American, British, and German). I hope to see more of Lisbon soon but, sadly, RCI has no westbound crossings from there in 2014.
Vision of the Seas is on the endangered species list of ships that still feel like ships (acrobats swinging from the Centrum rafters notwithstanding). It’s not so overloaded with gimmicks and passengers that it has the vibe of a land-based mall or an amusement park, where people typically ignore each other. The crew and officers set a gracious tone. If you're looking for a more classic cruise experience, this is a ship where you'll find it.