Vision of the Seas Cruise Review by kaisatsu: Short Cruise to Hamburg - An Inexpensive Escape
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Short Cruise to Hamburg - An Inexpensive Escape
This year Vision of the Seas ran a series of shoulder-season mini cruises out of Oslo during the month of May. After seeing the prices drop as the sail date approached, we decided on the spur of the moment to take a few days off work for a quick getaway.
This was our third time sailing RCCL and our second time on a Vision class ship (We'd sailed Rhapsody in the Caribbean back in 2004). Vision seemed surprisingly well-maintained, given her age. In general, I find the Vision-class layout to be open and easy to navigate with a few exceptions I remembered from our trip on Rhapsody. Despite my best efforts, I still have trouble remembering the route to the spa and fitness center, and the shops on board feel like they're in an underground maze with exits at 3(?!) ends.
One overwhelming positive that makes Vision a great ship for northern itineraries is the fully-enclosed solarium. We were lucky to have astonishingly good weather More sailing out of Oslo, but when the weather turned a bit damp and gray on the homeward journey, the indoor pool and bright solarium were warm and welcoming. Some of RCCL's newer ships don't seem to have a fully-closing glass ceiling, which prohibits swimming in cooler weather.
Since the cruise was so short, we booked an Inside Guarantee to save a few kroner. As the ship wasn't sailing full, we ended up in a large inside cabin, midship on Deck 4, and were very pleased, especially since we'd booked just 2 weeks out. Our cabin steward was efficient but not particularly friendly, and his attitude tended to come across as a bit surly.
With a temporary Oslo homeport and heavy local marketing, the majority of the passengers were Norwegian. There were many families with small children and an enormous number of first-time cruisers. As this was a generally short trip and one of the best days Oslo had seen all year, the atmosphere on board was very similar to what we experienced on our Caribbean sailing.
While some announcements were translated into Norwegian, the crew continued to function primarily in English. At dinner the maitre d' managed to find us seats at a table with two other English-speaking couples (along with two Norwegian couples). Thankfully, most Norwegians speak almost-perfect English, so conversing with our fellow passengers was never really a problem.
Food & Dining:
The food was fantastic. Our wait staff was fun, friendly, and attentive, though they made a lot of surprising mistakes. However, given our table's challenging ordering habits and special requests, we were all willing to overlook a few blunders. The head waiter was especially accommodating to some of our tablemates' more involved requests.
Embarkation & Disembarkation:
Embarkation was a little confusing, because there were very few signs or instructions on where to go. As there is no permanent cruise terminal at the pier Vision was using, embarkation procedures were handled in a tent set up alongside the ship. Some of our cruise documents mentioned the adjacent ferry terminal, so we first ended up there and were redirected to the shipside tent on the other side of the port area (kind of a hassle, as we were dragging our luggage). At the tent, the staff directing everyone spoke in Norwegian, adding to the general confusion (for us at least).
The actual check-in was extremely quick and smooth, and the Norwegian check-in agent was cheerful and friendly. Despite her apologies and insistence otherwise, her English was fantastic, and she was able to quickly track down English copies of all the information sheets (those on the counter were all in Norwegian).
One of our friends was working at the pier and had warned us that on the first cruise out of Oslo, there had been huge delays with people waiting around for hours as the staff tried to get the check-in system to work. Thankfully, they seem to have worked out the kinks in the first few cruises of the season, and we had no such issues.
Once on board, we were informed that the cabins would not be ready until 1:00pm. Since the cruise was so short, many people had opted for hand luggage only, so the buffet and pool areas were quite crowded with passengers and luggage waiting for the staterooms to become ready.
Disembarkation was quick and painless. Since we had only hand luggage, we opted for early self-disembarkation and were off the ship quickly and into a waiting taxi right away.
I can't comment on the daytime activities, as we chose to spend most of our time this cruise swimming and reading by the pool. Evening shows consisted of musical performers and production shows, which would appeal to all language groups.
Given the Norwegian affinity for Duty-Free alcohol, we checked the on-board shops as soon as we left port and found that the ship had wisely stocked extra alcohol. Though the stocks did deplete somewhat during the trip, I don't believe they ran into a shortage. Though there were some Norway items in the souvenir shop, most items seemed targeted at the full Baltic itineraries (including Oslo) the ship would be running later in the summer.
Ports currently not available in the Port Review option list:
*** Hamburg Germany ***
Rating: 3 stars
We had one port day during the trip, and our particular itinerary headed to Hamburg, Germany. We docked in Hamburg Port at the Cruise Center, which is only a short walk from the city center. Though Hamburg doesn't have a lot of major tourist draws, it was a pleasant place to just walk around. The ship provided a map with some of the major sights like the town hall and historic churches marked, and we filled the day just walking around the city enjoying the canals and the Hanseatic-era architecture.
Convenience - The pier location was extremely convenient for sightseeing, and actually lies within the historic and picturesque Speicherstadt customs-free port zone
Amount to do - There was enough sightseeing to fill a leisurely port day without being rushed, and we didn't feel that we missed out on much being limited to a single day in port.
Highlights - Rathus (town hall), Gothic remains of Nikolaikirche (St.Nikolai's church), a stroll along Inner Alster Lake, Speicherstadt (historic customs-free port zone), Michaeliskirche (St.Michael's church) Less
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Cabin review: Z4051
Access to stateroom corridor was awkward since it was through a closed door to the atrium (with a constant chance of hitting someone on the other side when opening it), Lots of space for an inside cabin, Comfortable sitting area, Very difficult to reach one side of the bed (in queen configuration) due to curtains and television cabinet
Port and Shore Excursions
Convenience: Oslo is extremely convenient to explore from a cruise ship. Most ship's dock right downtown near Akershus fortress, so no shuttle is needed to get into town. The walk is only 5-10 minutes with views of the harbor, city hall, Akershus castle grounds, and the Oslofjord. Although many of the major museums lie out on Bygdøy Peninsula, a ferry (part of the city's public transit system) departs from just in front of the city hall and sails out to the peninsula and back. To reach other parts of the city, there is also a tram stop and the Nationaltheatret transit stop (subway, bus, trams) is only 5 minutes farther.
Sail-in/-out: It takes a few hours for a ship to fully transit the Oslofjord from open seas to the downtown pier. Although Oslofjord is far less dramatic than the steep fjords of the west coast, the scenery is still quite pretty. In good weather, the fjord is crowded with sailboats and small watercraft. The shoreline is low tree-lined hills dotted with houses, harbors, and cabins. A few islands lie scattered around the fjord, including Oscarburg, the site of a historic fort and renowned Norwegian WWII naval victory.
Amount to do: You can put a good dent in the major sights in one day, but you'll have trouble hitting them all. Overall, there's definitely more than will fit in just one day. Unfortunately, some itineraries put the ships into port early in the morning and leave in the afternoon, which requires some creative planning as most museums don't open until 9-10 am.
Highlights: Vigelands Sculpture Park - Public park displaying hundreds of works by sculptor Gustav Vigeland, illustrating the human form in all walks of life. (tram 12 to Vigelandsparken or any subway line to Majorstuen, open 24hrs, free) Norwegian Folk Museum - Open-air museum with historic buildings from all over Norway and living-history re-enactments. The museum includes a restored example of Norway's iconic wooden stave churches. (ferry 91 or bus 30 to Bygdøy) Viking Ship Museum - Small museum housing the preserved remains of three Viking burial ships and related archaeological artifacts. Though the ships' fame makes this a very popular attraction, there isn't a lot of information about Viking history in general. (ferry 91 or bus 30 to Bygdøy) Polar Ship Fram - Museum dedicated to Arctic exploration and housing one of the original polar ships. The ship is the centerpiece of the museum, and visitors can explore inside. The surrounding balconies contain posters and smaller artifacts explaining the history of some of the expeditions. (ferry 91 or bus 30 to Bygdøy) Kon-Tiki Museum - Rafts, displays, and written history of Thor Heyerdahl's various expeditions, including the Kon-Tiki voyages and work on Easter Island. (ferry 91 or bus 30 to Bygdøy) National Gallery - Norway's national art museum, housing pieces by a number of Norwegian painters, including Munch's famous The Scream. The museum also contains a few works by Europe's big names: Monet, Picasso, etc. (downtown - 2 blocks from Nationaltheatret, free)
Other major sights: Karl Johans gate - The central street of Oslo, this street runs from the Royal Palace down to the central train station, passing Oslo University, the National Theater, the Storting (parliament), and Oslo Cathedral. The lower half is pedestrianized and popular with local shoppers and visiting street performers from all over Europe. Akershus Castle - Medieval fortress towering over the Oslofjord. Pleasant grounds with good views of the harbor and fjord. (next to the cruise pier, free admission to grounds) Oslo City Hall - Modern twin-towered building facing the fjord. Location of the annual awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize. Rooms have been decorated with extensive murals by various Norwegian artists. (2 blocks from cruise pier) Norwegian Resistance Museum - Extensive museum honoring the Norwegian WWII Resistance efforts. (next to the cruise pier, inside the Akershus Castle grounds) Nobel Peace Center - High-tech museum with displays on social issues and past Nobel Peace Prize laureates. Innovative technological displays include an interactive story book about Nobel's life, a computerized wall of detailed information on past prize winners, and a fiber-optic "garden" of laureates. (3 blocks from the cruise pier at Aker Brygge) Munch Museum - Museum dedicated to painter Edvard Munch. (any subway line to Tøyen) Historical Museum - National history museum containing an extensive collection of Viking artifacts. Signage is in Norwegian, but inquire about free English tours of the exhibit during the summer. (downtown - 1 block from Nationaltheatret, free)
Getting Around: Oslo is a very small city and is easily navigated on foot if you have the time. Some of the sights are within a few blocks of the cruise pier, and it's only 10-15 minutes' walk to the central thoroughfare of Karl Johans gate.
For slightly farther sights and to save time during a single port day, public transit is reliable and convenient. 1-Day passes, 8-trip punch cards, and single-trip tickets can be purchased in cash from machines at subway and some tram stops (including Aker Brygge near the pier) or with cash or card from local convenience stores (Narvesen, Deli de Luca, 7-11). Single-trip tickets can also be purchased (for a higher price) on board from bus/tram drivers and ferry conductors.
Transit is also included in the popular OsloPass, which covers most of the city's museums. The pass can be purchased from tourist information offices, including one in the cruise terminal, and many reports indicate that cruise passengers can receive a 20% discount on the pass by showing their cruise card.
More Information: Additional information, including OsloPass details are available on the city's tourism website - VisitOslo.com