This cruise embarked from Sao Paulo (Santos), Brazil. The port was not at all streamlined. There was a building to check your baggage and another (about 200 yards down the street) for passenger check in. Then you had to board a bus to go to another terminal about 800 yards away. Of course this is not RCCL's fault, just something to look forward to if you choose to cruise from this port.
After boarding the ship and settling into our stateroom, we set out to see the ship. Of course we started with the Lido deck. Compared to my last RCCL ship, the pool was rather small. There is a second pool in the solarium that was supposed to be reserved for adults but half the time it had unsupervised kids in it. The whirlpools worked well and actually had hot water. This was a refreshing surprise.
The Windsail Buffet was average. There were 3 buffet lines, so there was almost no wait. The layout of the buffet lines need a little help because to leave the restaurant you had to swim against the tide of people entering, and on one line there was only space for one-way traffic. The desert layout was circular and in the center of the dining area. I bet it looked pretty on the designer's desk, but functionality is another story. They divided the circle into 2 halves and they met in the middle. There was only one entrance/exit. It was a little awkward. If they wanted to divide it and make two lines, it would be better to have both an entrance and an exit.
The overall layout of the ship was the best I have seen. Everything was on levels radiating from the Centrum. All the ships that I had been on were like mazes. For example, if you want to go to the aft end of deck 5, you may have had to go down one floor and take a long corridor to take an elevator back up to deck 5. Kudos to the Vision of the Seas designer's on this one!
The overall cleanliness and condition of the ship was fair to good. I saw people painting and performing other maintenance every day. The staff did a pretty good job at keeping after 2700 messy Marvins, quite a task! There were a few areas they should have spent more time on. All the windows were in need of cleaning. I didn't see even one window being washed. There are windows in the Windsail buffet that look down to the water. It is a nice view but these windows tend to get a lot of crumbs deposited in their frames. This was another area of "needs improvement".
The room service was wonderful. They were fast to get the food there and quite courteous. There were a few times they didn't have all the things on their menu but there was sufficient variety to choose from. The quality was good too.
By far, the highest marks have to be in the Aquarius dining room. The dinnertime food and service were impeccable. The breakfast however was very limited. They set up a buffet line in the dining room and told me to help myself. If I had wanted to be herded through a line I would have eaten at the buffet! I had to ask for a menu (this should have been presented to me upon seating.) Later I spoke to my dinnertime head waiter and he promised to address the issue.
The entertainment was very high quality but lacked variety. There were 4 dance shows. Two were by their English troop and two by their Brazilian troop. They were very talented but the Broadway Rhythm and Rhyme needs improvement. I have lived in the states most of my life and I have seen hundreds of Broadway musicals. Out of the 20 or so songs they did, I recognized only 2 of them. There were a couple of game shows. There should have been more. They should have had a magician, a ventriloquist, or a comedian. I only remember laughing out loud maybe once or twice on the entire cruise. The sea day only had a few events, they really needed more.
The Casino was OK. They didn't have a craps table. I did well on Roulette table though.
The shopping, although better than some ships I have been on, could stand for a little improvement. They should have a greater variety and lower some of the prices. For example, I was on a 7 day Western Caribbean cruise out of Miami 2 weeks earlier and I bought a can of SPF-50 sunscreen for US$7.95. The same can was US$28.95 on this cruise. If they are duty-free, why are the prices so much higher? Many passengers commented to me about the high prices.
The shore excursions were very limited. I can't blame RCCL for this; they are at the mercy of the locals. If anything, RCCL could bring some fresh ideas to the locals and partner up with them to improve the options. The tendering operation was done using the life boats. The lines were very long. They snaked up the stairwells for 4 floors. When the lines did move, they moved pretty fast.
Final cruise disembarkation was by the colors. Unlike other cruises I have been on, carry offs were not scheduled. I fully expected to carry my own luggage (I pack light), from the ship. Not checking your bags is usually a big time saver. This ship didn't give you a priority time that you could get off the ship. It is however possible to contact the purser's desk to change your assigned color to get off earlier.
Overall, the cruise was quite relaxing and well worth the money. As a frequent cruiser, I am a little discerning and my review may seem a little negative. I assure you that the cruise was a very good experience. I met several first-time cruisers onboard that were already making plans to come back.