Royal Caribbean Vision of the Sea
Istanbul and the Holy Land departing 28 October 2012 Grand Suite 8518 The three star rating is based on the experience of a suite booking. Had a lower grade been booked the rating would have been higher.
This voyage was selected for its chance of a first visit to Israel at a time that suited me.
We have cruised before, on Cunard, Silversea, Fred Olsen and Royal Caribbean Brilliance of the Seas The Grand Suite category is the lowest grade offering Concierge benefits on this Vision Class ship.
Check in was brisk although there was no dedicated line for Suite guests. We were allowed to find our own way to the suite and the nearest lift was not signposted from the entry on deck 1. On the Cunard Queen Mary we were once fortunate to be upgraded to Queens Grill status and we found the suite cabin on Vision of the Sea equally good if not better than that on QM. However, that was it and from then on it was not clear what benefits Concierge status had for us. Newer and larger Royal Caribbean Ships have a dedicated lounge staffed by an officer who gets to know and assist her passengers. On Vision and its class of ship this is not so. When I asked at reception the day after joining if I could meet the Concierge officer I was met with a puzzled stare but eventually the right person did appear and was helpful, though I saw her only once again on the last sea day when she delivered an invitation to visit the bridge.
We were first assigned to a table of eight for dinner. Two places were unfilled and the other four were occupied by young women who had not met previously but were loyal RC cruisers who had earned enough points to be upgraded to Concierge status even though occupying inside cabins. They had much to share with each other and though polite and friendly it was pretty obvious that two 70 year olds were oddities on the table. I think the ship was incompetent about this placement, this was about feeding, not dining. Our one meeting with the Concierge officer the following day had us moved to a table for two.
Special lunch menus for Concierge Guests were published in the suite literature but lunch in the restaurant was by open seating only. We joined a queue to be seated at tables of 8-10. Showing our Gold Sea pass cards at the restaurant entrance at the first lunch was again met by puzzled staff who were not aware of any special menus and we were made to feel rather like queue jumpers. The tables for ten were pretty miserable. Some passengers brought a book and read, couples sat in silence and there was never a communal feeling to meals shared this way. The Windjammer Cafe provided buffet meals. It was crowded but adequate though the staff look gloomy. Cabin 8518 is located right below the Windjammer entry. Other reports here have mentioned that the cabin may experience undue early morning noise as the Cafe is set up for breakfast. This was not a problem. From time to time heavy footfalls could be heard during the day, probably made by younger passengers running, but any noise would not have been commented on except to say that the main problem seems to have been sorted.
There was no vibration nor engine noise in the cabin and almost none in remainder of the ship including the auditorium over the stern. It was a very stable ship even in the moderate seas we experienced for a day or so. In the cabin, the restaurant and the auditorium you could not be sure if the ship was tied up alongside, or at sea.
The ship is clean and well maintained. The carpets look new and the underlay is thick and springy, feeling freshly laid. A large amount of space has been allocated to the shopping arcade but it seems odd that no simple goods like toothpaste, aspirin or reading material were available.
The casino too is large, perhaps even oversized. I tried to count the number of slot machines and came to numbers between 150-200, so many rows, columns and arcs of banked machines I gave up on accuracy, but the numbers do indicate that RC is doing all it can to separate passenger from their dollars. There was a general grumble of recognition that this was something resented but tolerated.
The Captain announced on day three that there was some diarrhoea on board and regular videos about hand washing were shown on cabin TVs and encouraged at all food outlets. After this announcement I avoided the Windjammer buffets where there was so much exposed food and restricted dining to the restaurant, even with its shared tables for lunch. No one I came across had any problems with the norovirus, nor did they know of cases personally.
There was a special morning reception for suite guests, about 40 were there. At least ten officers were present to circulate and were introduced to us. They including the Finance Controller, Communications, Marketing, HR, Inventory and so on but oddly missing was the officer dedicated to suite guests. There were three formal nights but no tux for us even though up to now we have always taken formal gear. It was a good decision as it was poorly observed. I estimated fewer than 20% of men were in black tie. Some in black tie were not wearing coats and nearby one in the full kit set it off with a baseball cap, black of course. At the next table to us, on all three formal nights the man wore a black T-shirt. (a young man who looked more elegant than many others of us) It would have been disappointing to have compromised our 23k baggage allowance for the flight out and then back to have packed tuxedo. Tuxedos were available to rent on board but why bother?
Concierge guests have access to a reserved section of the Viking Lounge between 5-8pm for free drinks. I asked for a sauvignon blanc on my first visit and was told that that wine was too expensive and the choice was a house red or white. I had the white but did not finish it. Later on I found that you could order any bar drink at a 25% discount though service was still added. On previous RC voyage with access to the dedicated concierge lounge a good bar was maintained and canapÃ©s and other hot dishes were available too. When I did ask if they were serving any canapÃ©s I was told that they were off because of the viral problem. The Vision's evening lounge arrangements are a poor compromise and I did notice that most of the users of this facility seemed to be upgrades with an absence of suite guests. I used the facility only twice, mainly because it was inconvenient, ending at 8pm while second seating dinner was not until 8:45pm. A cocktail before dinner was not the function of this service.
The food on board was average standard but there is special mention of the pastry chef whose work was outstanding, and I usually avoid desserts. But nevertheless it was best to avoid desserts that involved alcohol. A superb savaran had a light delicate texture but the Gran Marnier based syrup it was to absorb saw little if any Gran Marnier and instead was an unpleasant rather bitter/sour substitute. Later a black cherries with kirsch suffered much the same way, so instead I kept to his varied creations that outshone the remainder of the galley's output.
Had we booked a lower grade which did not offer a Concierge service this could have been a cruise offering good no-frills value. The passengers looked contented and were having a good time. Our Concierge experience on Brilliance of the Seas encouraged us to repeat it on Vision. RC's advertising does inform that the full Concierge experience is not present on Vision class Ships but the offered service is unnecessarily patchy with a lack of attention to detail and my advice would be to forget it, though we did get a really nice cabin!