I was aboard Vision of the Seas' 292nd cruise, from Vancouver to Seward. This was my very first cruise and first exposure to the cruising lifestyle. I didn't know what to expect, I was travelling on a budget so my expectations were low.
EMBARKATION: We arrived about an hour after the scheduled start of embarkation. There weren't that many people and we wound up going from cab to ship in about 20 minutes flat. Lots of RCI staff were on hand to check people in. No slowdowns or problems.
CABIN: We had a Large Interior Stateroom on Deck 3. This class is the second smallest cabin on board. The bathrooms are smaller than your average office cubicle. Noise levels in the cabin were annoying but not so bad that you couldn't sleep. Hearing people next door yelling and feet stomping in the above deck were common. The cabin was mostly clean and functional except for our TV, it had a habit of blanking out into static in the middle of a program. Wasn't sure if it was because of the TV or satellite reception. Not a big deal since I wasn't planning on watching alot of TV anyways. I did not report the problem.
HOUSEKEEPING: Replaced towels and made up beds twice a day. But still had a few problems. On the first night, I noticed my bedsheets had stains and were not replaced by housekeeping despite being visibly dirty. Housekeeping didn't get the hint till I pulled off all the bedsheets and put them on the floor. Even then, only two of the three sheets were replaced. Also the bathroom was without shampoo for 2 nights, housekeeping didn't bother to check the dispensers. But to their credit, they filled it back up within 15 minutes after I placed a phone call reporting it. Strangely the towel animals and mints did not appear in our cabin till the third night. Bottom line: don't assume that they will notice what you notice, if you see a problem report it and give them a chance to correct it.
PUBLIC ROOMS: Very clean and beautiful, despite a crowd of 2100 people aboard. I constantly saw staff cleaning the public areas. The bathrooms tended to get dirty faster, but they didn't stay that way for long. In both of the major dining areas we found a few occasions where the silverware that was handed to us was still dirty. The shopping mall area on the sixth deck was a little more cramped than it should be. Watch out for Sidewalk Sale Day! Kind of like the Muster Safety Drill, only without the lifevests, order, and space! Also on rainy days the lobby marble floors leading outside to decks 9 & 10 tend to get VERY slippery. Once I nearly fell even after wiping my feet on the waterlogged floormat. RCI should consider floormats that don't get waterlogged or have space heaters directed at the floors to dry up the puddles.
EXCURSIONS: These can be booked through RCI or on your own when you reach a port of call. My excursions were done through RCI. Booking yourself may be cheaper in some instances, but RCI claims that they work with some trip providers and when you book through them, RCI guarantees that you will be returned to the ship on time even in the event a tour runs late. Some excursions were better than others, the Skagway White Pass railway and Juneau whale watching were worthwhile. The land portion of the Ketchikan Explorer by Land and by Sea is forgettable and while the Juneau Mt. Roberts Tramway offers some great views, that's pretty much all it offers. If I could do it again, I would probably do more pre-cruise research on the ports of call and look into booking my own excursions once I get there. Also I wish I could have waken up more early at the ports of call in order to browse around the towns before my actual excursions. On many occasions I woke up late and wound up rushing through breakfast/lunch on the ship and then rushing out to meet the tour. Not fun.
DINING: I don't know why so many reviews are putting down the food. In general I thought the food was above average. We ate all our dinners in formal dining and had our breakfasts and lunches in the Windjammer cafe. The beef dishes tended to be hit or miss (leather-tough beef stir-fry and pocket steaks, but great prime rib and NY Strip at formal dining). Desserts and pastries tended to diverse and tasty. Although there were some variations, the food served in the Windjammer and Aquarius dining room is generally the same. The only free drinks on board are coffee, tea, and water. RCI has a $28 Coke-Cola tumbler that is yours to keep and has unlimited soft drink refills. The Solarium snack bar serves hot dogs, hamburgers, gardenburgers, and pizzas till 2 am. After that you must order room service for your munchies. The hamburgers and pizzas are mostly greasy and tasteless. I was disappointed that they didn't offer more items in their snack lineup like chicken breast sandwiches or chicken strips or deli-style sandwiches.
ENTERTAINMENT: I caught most of the shows while I was aboard. Although I'm not a big fan of musicals, I thought the Vision of the Seas dancers/singers were pretty good. Very flashy and loud but better than some off-broadway shows I've seen. Because of dinner scheduling, there are typically only two one-hour shows a night (both shows are the same). This is unfortunate in some ways, since it doesn't allow the performers enough time to put on full scale performances with complex storylines. I think on one night the entertainers got the night off and a movie was shown instead. Maybe RCI should consider showing movies after the live shows, that way people who aren't into live entertainment have an extra option. I believe only one film was shown at the Masqarade theater while I was on board. The Sherri Cafaro Trio performed in the Centrum on several nights and in the Masqarade theater on the last night. Like the other singers on board Sherri Cafaro was very good.
FITNESS: Disappointing. On sea days the center closed at 9pm, on port days 10pm. I think both times are way too early. During the day the center was frequently crowded and there was no staff present to enforce the 20 minute limit on the machines. The machines were functional but outdated. Also I thought that the center was limited to passengers 16 years and over. I saw 5-year children in the center playing with the treadmills and free weights. Again no staff were present or if they were present they didn't care. Center needs to be larger with more machines, better staffing and longer hours.
Gold Anchor Service? Hmmmmmmmm. The service wasn't perfect by most standards, but acceptable. I saw no outrageous unprofessionalism. I feel that the crew was mostly very friendly and responsive. Especially the dining room staff, the waiters were professional and warm. They frequently went out of their way to get to know you and make you feel welcome. The Casino staff were friendly but were a more slow to respond to problems, one Aussie bloke finished a social conversation with a co-worker before helping me out. I was also surprised by the mediocre quality of the photos put out by the Ship's photographers. The quality of the photos is definitely not commensurate with their costs.
I was impressed with the beauty of the ship and cruise route, for me I feel this was definitely a good value for the price. Seeing Glacier Bay while listening to the native americans speak over the loudspeakers was the high point of my trip. I was very intrigued by their discussion of their culture and land while cruising by the Hubbard Glacier. It was very educational and moving. I would ABSOLUTELY take another RCI trip again.
In response to some of the negative staff reviews: In my conversations with the staff I learned the RCI staff typically work in 6 month rotations, so a professional and responsive crew member may be replaced by a potato (and vice versa) within a span of a few weeks. Because of this it's unfair to bad mouth an entire ship because of it's staff.