I’m a price/deal buyer for cruising. The stars aligned the first week of January – a low season cruise week. There were good choices- HAL out of Tampa had great window cabin pricing and air fares were good. Promenade decks are required for us as is the possibility of some ballroom/Latin dancing and extra sea days are a bonus. My decision was swayed by the fact I was four nights away from Platinum on RCCL- and the ocean view fares were good on the Vision of the Seas.
New Orleans is an excellent cruise port. The airfares creep up a little on the weekends, but the airport is close by ($35 flat rate cab or Uber) and there are lot of hotel choices. You can stay downtown or in the Garden District – we are Hotel Indigo people – boutique hotels are cool. Kevin the bartender at the Indigo knows everyone and everything New Orleans and suggested a walk on Magazine Street where we found a fun breakfast at Molly’s – grits, collard greens and eggs. The trolley gets you downtown rapidly for $1.25 or $3 (pay the onboard machine) for 24 hours. We found several yarn/knitting shops (the Quarter Stitch has Mardi Gras yarn) and I wanted to find some crawfish. Crawfish bread and gumbo were good choices at the historic hole in the wall called the Chartres House.
An XL Uber for all the baggage from the Indigo was not expensive to the cruise port (there are two main docks and at least a third for other lines) <$15 with tip or so. From downtown you can practically walk to the main cruise port which is literally on the back side of the Hilton/outlet mall and convention center.
There was no waiting at all at 11:30 to board. I did notice they were spotting and grabbing power strips from hand luggage- the surge suppressor ones are a documented shipboard fire hazard. The confiscated ones included non-surge styles. Our cabin had two real 110v outlets and two Euro ones. Pro Tip: Bring a cheap Euro (round pin to US) plug adapter and many devices (cell phone chargers) are happy on 208V /50Hz. The window cabins are tidy and just right- deck 2 was quiet and the in room couch was comfortable. Steward service 2x a day was flawless.
The Vision is a nice ship. I was studying deck plans ahead of time and was hopeful on the promenade deck- alas it has about 85% of one- no access to the bow. But the old school teak deck setup seems safer for loading lifeboats and this one has some deck chairs to relax in.
We avoid buffets- so we found embarkation lunch at Park Cafe- it was quiet (except the annoying background music) and the seating was wide open. They had a tea /hot water machine – I hate luke warm and or coffee flavored tea water- this one said 202 degrees on the display- but it was sadly unplugged at 5AM when I looked for it every morning. You could find a beverage setup in the pool area outside Windjammer that was open a lot. It had warm tea water and reportedly cold coffee very early each day.
We arrived at the MDR my time usually overdressed. Formal night was tuxes to shorts and informal night was very informal. There was a tropical night and Mardi Gras night- which we were not aware of ahead of time
Two MDR waiters stood out- Dante and Dione – and Sandee and Kevin the assistants. Head Waiters and even the Training Manager were cheerful and pitching in where needed. Service was good. Table sharing was very nice – the early breakfast and MDR lunch chats were fun. There were quite a few tables for two if you like that. Interestingly they had expert hostesses assigning tables and the senior MDR leaders were managing table turnover and inventory – they need invest in some wireless tablets for them to use. On another company – table turnover fell apart and this led to long lines.
MDR food was very good. There were always a couple of difficult main course decisions. Soups were above average but the mains were just right. Breakfast was good- they were marketing the little buffet setup- but I order eggs benedict daily off the menu. RCCL Pro Tip- a guy siting next us who was an RCCL fan gets his waffles and strawberries from Windjammer and brings them in.
We found a cheerful bartender from Jamaica up on Viking Crown Lounge – a nice space which was sometimes taken up by VIP receptions. It has nice views but was chilly and we got a hint it was a quiet place in the mornings. We looked at the menus for specialty dining but none were appealing. We are not meat and or sushi people.
Dancing was hit and miss. I was digging in the posted daily programs -and there seemed to be some Latin and pre-recorded ballroom. We got in a foxtrot or two at the Captains Reception and then they had a few nights of recorded ballroom. The Latin band was good- and one could grab a Rumba or Bachata here and there. Given the number of passengers from the South, I might suggest some pre-recorded country. Talita from the cruise staff was a fireball - wicked funny and did a great job on dance lessons, singing etc.
We saw the welcome aboard show and comedy- both were good. We poked our heads in Windjammer- the area looked small ish and the selections were not as extensive as on newer ships.
Events by the pool were ear splittingly loud and the big TV ran 24x7 at full blast.
The Meet and Mingle was interesting. It was run by the Cruise Events staff- so prizes and games – no officers. We were chased out of the area by the Park West Manager- who apparently needed an hour to set up - boo hiss.
Miami was an unexpected day stop. I found a wholesale electronics shop that was happy to sell me a tablet and we found Peruvian shrimp soup. It was either that or Little Havana. Budget land transport was the free trolley (Coral Way) that stops right at Terminal F or the crew shuttle (3$) that took you to the mall. Insider tips- The crew says this is a happy ship (lots of repeat contracts) and if time is tight and you want to go to the mall vs downtown take the crew shuttle.
The British Colonial Hilton Day Pass in Nassau again did not disappoint. Reserve this ahead of time online. It is a short walk to an exclusive private beach. The staff are cheerful and they upgraded the chairs and have a lot of new clamshell loungers. The view of the harbor is outstanding. You can see your ship- Pro Tip- if they have all several radars going and are blowing the horn it might be time to pack up and run. After coming here regularly for twenty years the recent complaints about security in Nassau are complete nonsense. Everybody here either works in tourism or knows someone who works in tourism – this is what they do.
Key West was fun- we looked for and did not find the free shuttle bus – so saved $30 each and walked a mile down to the southernmost point. A block toward Duval we found the Southernmost Beach Café. They have an epic sea view, and nice island food. And the place is on a sandy beach and rents chairs, umbrellas, etc. I regret not buying the pound bag of key lime jelly beans on the way back on Duval. There was a shop on Duval selling Turkish souvenirs- the ceramic trivets are pretty and very handy.
Disembarkation was well managed- quick and easy. Having passport checks in Key West was a big time saver.
As one of the older and smaller ships in the fleet, we were pleased with our experience. If you want to pay top dollar and expect the finest features and amenities – I would go with a larger, newer ship. But for the very low price this is a good value.
Lots of room. Super quiet. Nice couch.
Walk down for lunch to the Southernmost Beach Cafe.
The free trolley takes you downton for shopping and nice dining options.
Easy to get to the ship. The dock is literally behind the Hilton downtown. Lots to do- take the trolley.