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.
Ship Layout: 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 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.
Stateroom: 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.
Fellow Passengers: 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 maître 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.
Entertainment: 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.
Shopping: 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.
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*** 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)