Due to a lack of proper sanitation/hygienic conditions on the ship, there was an outbreak (publicly announced throughout the ship) of a gastrointestinal virus which I contracted. My immune system was not up to battling the bug, I could not function nor eat for one full day and thereafter medically quaranteed for 24 hours. Unfortunately, the virus struck at a very critical time so I missed what I traveled half way around for, a visit to Jerusalem and Bethlehem in Israel. As soon as the crew took corrective actions via sanitizing most areas, the virus abated, but it was too late for me as I had already suffered 2 real bad days and two more functioning at half speed. I was furnished superior medical care by the medical clinic doctor and the nurses. Although I was furnished no info by ship personnel, I was able to take care of the medical bill and the $380 I had paid for the Jerusalem/Bethlehem shore excursion was refunded without great hassle.
When I arrived back in LA, I contacted the post cruise guest relations section in Miami re issues dealing with the norovirus. Unfortunately, an indifferent disinterested advocate answered my call and e-mailed back in two days telling basically that he could not or would not help me. My responsive e-mail was never answered. Since I have spent my adult life as trial atty, I could not let this slide, and after two weeks, a very friendly lady from the executive staff called me, apologized and offered me a very-very small voucher (what I consider a bone) off a future cruise. A written apology would have been preferred. RCI is headed for a class action lawsuit re the Norovirus caused by its lack of proper maintenance. Remember, the bug abated when the crew took corrective action, so it mi9ght have been preventible.
As to the positives about the cruise, the staff was excellent and not just the cabin steward and dining room waiter and his assistant, but everyone. They were friendly, polite and helpful. As I said, the medical care furnished was superior. I have been on many cruises, but the evening entertainment in the main showroom was the best I have seen. Although the breakfast menu was the same each day in the main dining room, it was extensive and it rates a an A minus rating.
The negatives are extensive. I sailed on the very same ship, Vision of the Seas, last May to the Baltic, so I am comparing the two sailings.
First off is the price gouging. RCI charges $31 per person each way for airport transfers for a total cost of $124. I used a cab for a total round trip cost of about $51 to $52 and I had fast private service. I live in California where wine is inexpensive. However, what they charged plus a 15% tip for one bottle of wine, I can buy a full case or 12 bottles here in LA. Usually free, but here there was a $150 per person charge for a ship tour. The prices for the shore excursions were about double the cost of those offered in the Baltic in May, 2011. Remember, the Baltic northern europe) is a very high cost area for everything The shore excursions were awful with the emphasis being on the tour guide wasting time in souvenir shops where they obviously get a kick back. Over this, there was even an argument in one shop between one guide and tourist over the amount of wasted time. This souvenir shop stopping was on all the shore trips. There was a complete lack of management of quality over the shore trips and their guides.
In May, the dinner menu in selection and quality rated an A. By October, in the main dining room, the choices were meager and the quality was not close to gourmet. In fact, it was below average except for service. The buffet (Windjammer) where we rarely ate was mediocre. It was like a very cheap all you eat cafe which are abundant here in LA. This is all for cost savings.
There is a dearth of activities on the ship on the at sea days. There was 2 sessions of a napkin folding class which my wife enjoyed plus a scrapbook class. Other activities appeared to revolve around the spa which was a front to purchase services or the casinos. Of course, sitting in the sun or using the pool were available and free. Due to a lack of customers probably because of the cost, at the spa, the attendant threw in a facial for the cost of a massage. My wife accepted the offer.
Unlike May, when we disembarked and there was plenty of staff outside the ship to assist, there was a sole lady and exit door. Although, the luggage was neatly arranged, exiting the terminal was a nightmare because RCI's transfer buses clogged the way and but for a porter, were we able to find a taxi. Of course, these were not cabs that used meters so the price was triple what it should be. I knew the correct price and eventually found an honest driver. RCI has an obligation to direct you via personnel or signs to other modes of transfer apart from their overpriced (as described above)transfer service.
RCI, since May of this year, has made the bottom line its primary focus. I am reasonably sure that this principle is applicable to all their ships and sailings.
Please note airfare from LA to Istanbul, Turkey is not cheap, so when I add that cost to that of the cruse's shortcomings, I was at best disappointed with the cruise. I suppose that if the cost of the RCI cruise is very cheap and you live close enough to the start off point so air is cheap, I would recommend an RCI cruise, but always be wary of the Norovirus. If you are lucky like my wife, you may have an immunity to the virus so this potential malady should not scare you off.