Let me preface this review by saying that we recognize the challenges that arise due to an outbreak of the Norovirus, and have accounted for those challenges in this review.
My wife and I have taken 7 cruises, all of them on Royal Caribbean. We are in our mid 40s and have been married 23 years. We opted for this 9-night cruise out of Oslo, Norway instead of a 7-night Mediterranean cruise mostly due to price-per-night when airfare was factored in.
Prior to sailing, we stayed at the Thon Munch Hotel in Oslo. It's a great hotel to start a cruise vacation because the rooms are only slightly larger than an outside stateroom. The bathroom fixtures are the same that we have seen in the cabins on RCI ships! The main difference is that the bathroom floor is heated and the bed is more comfortable. The hotel was quiet, clean and comfortable. We booked a room with the breakfast option. The breakfast buffet included scrambled eggs, soft-boiled eggs, a variety of cereals and fruits, cold cuts, cheeses, artisan bread, pickles and one of my new favorites; pickled herring. Free wi-fi was available throughout the hotel. It is a short walk to the "main" downtown area restaurants and sights. It was a nice walk from the hotel to Vigeland Park on the morning before we sailed. It's a 15 minute cab ride from the Thon Munch to the pier. The hotel front desk clerk (never went home?) was kind enough to call the cab company without charge.
After sailing on Radiance, Voyager and Freedom class vessels, the smaller size of the Vision of the Seas seemed like a pleasant change. We booked a balcony guarantee about 8 weeks prior to sailing. We were upgraded to a Junior Suite just a few days after making the reservations.
We boarded the ship in Oslo at about noon on May 6, 2010. Since we were in a suite, we were able to go into the short line. The cabins weren't expected to be ready until 2:00 p.m., so we went to the Windjammer and had a little lunch, and wandered the ship a bit. At 2:30 we were given the "all clear" that our cabins were ready. We didn't discover till later that ours wasn't really ready. The bed was made, but little else was done (tub felt slimy, toiletries were used, room not vacuumed). This should've been a warning sign of things to come from the cabin steward.
We were in Suite 8084, second from last aft cabin on the starboard side. As far aft as we were, the ship's motion was not objectionable. We always take a Transderm Scop patches and didn't need them this time. The only night we ran into rough seas was day 2, the North Sea. Passage through the Hebrides was smooth as glass.
The junior suite is considerably larger than a standard balcony stateroom; about 50% wider. The bathroom was much bigger, with dual "medicine cabinets" and a bathtub. The tub was more of a hindrance than a benefit. It was difficult to step out of since the bottom of the tub was about 6" higher than the floor. The closet is about the same size, as a normal cabin, but there are a couple of other tall narrow storage areas in the room. The widescreen LCD TV is easily viewed from the bed(s), but doesn't tilt/rotate to improve the view from the seating area. The various inputs on the TV weren't disabled like we had experienced on other ships. We hooked up the netbook via the HDMI port and watched a couple of DVDs on the days at sea. The "ship's channel" was not viewer friendly. Too much time was spent on switching between various image sources instead of using a split screen to display the information all at once. The in-suite coffee maker was a nice touch.
As I mentioned, the Norovirus outbreak affected most of the cruise. In an attempt to combat the apparently ongoing outbreak, the crew was constantly disinfecting all exposed surfaces (kudos!). They used a bleach solution, but never wiped the surfaces dry (boo!). The stench of oxidized copper in the polished brass elevator to the Viking lounge was horrible. I'd like to know how many pairs of pants were ruined by leaning against wet, bleached handrails.
The shops on board were not very well organized. The "booze" shop was PACKED with cases of different types of liquor. So much so that there was not enough room for two people to pass in the "aisle" - scarcely enough room for one. The jewelry shop was very spacious, with plenty of room, as was the cosmetics shop. The logo shop was the most sparsely populated. They probably should have swapped places with the booze shop. The advertised special sales (scarves, rings, etc.) never took place.
The cabin steward was very personable, but never performed his duties adequately. He was obviously very anxious to make up our room as early as possible each night. Despite our repeated reminders that we have late dinner seating and he can make up the room at that time, he usually tried to get into the room around 7:30 p.m. When asked to replenish the toiletries (shampoo, conditioner and lotion), he hesitated, and said he wasn't supposed to, but would see what he could do for me. The coffee maker was filthy when we arrived on day one, as was one of the cups. He never vacuumed the room during the whole cruise. The worst infraction was that he read our comment card that I left in the room while we were at the Solarium bar. I thought it was strange that he tried explaining his performance, unsolicited, but didn't realize till later that he read the comment card. A number of times during the cruise we were charged for mini-bar items that we did not use. We ordered the water package, and had to have the charges removed from the account three times, including the final day.
This was the first time I had rented a tuxedo on board. The tux was delivered late on the 2nd day of the cruise. Once it was delivered, I found that the size was wrong, and not all accessories were included. I called the number provided, and it turned out to be housekeeping. After transferring my call to the tailor, he took my information and arrived at the cabin in minutes. After a verification measurement he left and returned in about 20 minutes with all of the accessories and the appropriately sized pants.
I was surprised at how readily some the staff used profanity - not in a derogatory fashion, but sort of "friendly" fashion. It's not a question as to whether I was offended or not, it is just unprofessional.
There are three dining venues on board; Main Dining Room, Windjammer Cafe (buffet) and the Solarium Snack Bar. The MDR was open most days for breakfast, lunch and dinner. On some sea days brunch was served. The food served in the MDR was a little better than we had on Liberty. Burgers, hot dogs and sandwiches were served in the Solarium Snack Bar.
I have mixed reviews about the food service staff. They were saddled with an enormous task of individually serving everybody in the Windjammer due to the presence of the Norovirus. Perhaps that was the reason for much of their seemingly irrational behavior. Most obvious was their apparent lack of awareness of the port schedule. In more than one port, most excursions were returning at about the same time, which just happened to coincide with the time that they closed half of the Windjammer. I understand the precautions that must be taken to combat the spread of the virus, but the crew frequently left their post unmanned, and did not confront pushy passengers that reached into the bins to help themselves.
The Main Dining Room staff was some of the best we've encountered. The waiter was professional, friendly and very well spoken. Each night after dinner, he always asked if we'd like to try something else from the menu. After the second night, our assistant waiter left the ship; a young woman with an apparent case of homesickness. Her replacement, Sanjay, was superb. He always made sure our water, tea, coffee was filled and never assumed that he knew what we wanted to drink, but would ask, "Would you like Diet Coke again tonight, sir?". The Head Waiter, Colin, spent more time at our table than we've ever encountered on any other cruise. He assisted with serving and bussing our table. Perhaps an artifact of the smaller ship, but the MDR wait staff seemed much more attentive.
The staff at the Solarium bar was very good, despite the fact they never knew what the drink-of-the-day was. The bartender, Artur, was from Brazil and spoke English very well. After the first couple of days, he greeted us by name, and never assumed what our drink selection would be.
The excercise facilities are very small, and always crowded. The area designated for the excercise classes - a "dance floor" - took up a large amount of the available space.
It was by far the smokiest ship I have ever been on. I don't know if it was just that there were a higher percentage of smokers than previous cruises, or inadequate ventilation, but most of the Centrum from deck 4 to deck 7 was very smoky, all of the time. The starboard side of the pool deck was dedicated to smoking and was always smoky.
At every port, disembarking was very disorganized. The crew always had two of the Seapass readers at the exit point, but only ever used one at a time. Frequently, the lines would stretch from the deck 1 door up the stairs onto deck 2 landing and into the elevator area. Similar problems were encountered in returning to the ship, with the exception of one port where they actually had both lanes operating. Also, the crew got annoyed with passengers that didn't know which way to put the card into the readers. It was strange that the two readers were different - one was card face-up, the other was card face-down. I could never tell which was which; they looked identical.
The itinerary was the reason we selected this cruise. The only issue is that we didn't have enough time in any of the ports! The train trip from Le Havre to Paris is about 2 hours each way, so 4 hours of the Le Havre stop is in transit - still well worth the trip, though. Getting a cab from the train station back to the pier at 10:30p.m. is a little difficult. We went to the hotel across the street, and they called a cab for us. Edinburgh is about a 30 minute shuttle ride from the tender port. The final trip of the private shuttle is about 3 hours prior to weighing anchor. Unfortunately, those 3 hours could've been utilized on the Royal Mile. We booked excursions through the cruise line for Cherbourg (Normandy) and Invergordon/Inverness. We relied on the Hop-on, Hop-off bus in Paris and Dublin.
The final disembarking in Oslo was moved earlier to allow the ship to be decontaminated. According to a crew member, over 300 passengers got sick with Norovirus on this cruise. As with other disembarkations, this was disorganized. Some staff instructed passengers to enter one line, other staff told the pax not to stand there. We purchased transfer from the pier to the airport while on board. It was fairly easy, but not as cheap as a taxi to the train station, and the Flytoget to OSL.
Despite the crew issues we encountered on this cruise, I would recommend this itinerary on this ship, although I would probably opt for a stateroom without a tub - it's dangerous for those with short legs. I would encourage potential passengers to not prepay gratuities and bring cash. In retrospect, we tipped the cabin steward way too much. I probably should've told him early on that his tip will depend on the service he provides. Perhaps he would've kept the room a little cleaner and wouldn't have run up bogus mini-bar charges.