This was our 9th cruise, the first with RCI. The ship departed from LA and visited Cabo San Lucas, Mazatlan, and Puerto Vallarta. We booked an outside deck 2 aft Category I cabin.
We arrived 2 days early to see the sights at Marina del Rey, Venice Beach, and Santa Monica. We decided to blow the wad and stayed at the Marriott MDR for $200/night, across the road from Mother's Beach. Our eighth floor room offered a great view of the marina, mountains, and ocean in the distance, and the hotel was well located to enjoy the marina activities and quickly get to Venice and Santa Monica. The marina is huge, over a mile long, and in the summer from May to Sept there will be a water taxi taking people to different spots around the marina for $1. The Visitors Center sent us a great map with info about sights to see: www.VisitMarina.com (310-305-9545).
For dinner in MDR we wanted good value and a nice view of the marina. The Cheesecake Factory is well known but has only a few tables with a good view, and a better bet isTony P's on Admiralty Way, entrees from $10-32, huge portions, great selections on the menu, and tons of tables with marina/sea views.
Venice Beach is the famous collection of street buskers, eccentrics, hotties, and tourists. It's about 1.5 miles from MDR, and has a 30 foot wide ocean boardwalk passing by tons of shops, sport areas such as paddle tennis and basketball courts, roller bladers, bikers, and the Muscle Beach area. Even on a cool March day there were lots of people. Muscle Beach is an open air fitness gym behind a 4 foot railing, and there were always some muscle types pumping iron where we went by. Teens and spring breakers would think this is the coolest place. Here's the link to a good map showing the different areas there: www.venicebeach.com/n_images/vbmap.html
Santa Monica is much more upscale, especially the Third Street Promenade, restricted to pedestrians only, very pretty, cute shops, tons of eateries. The famous S. M Pier is cheesy and tacky, a few entertainment rides, fast food joints, arcades. Lots of parking on the pier for $7 or under/beside the pier for $6. Nice view of the beach and waves. A cab from MDR to SM is about $10-12, and from Venice to SM about $6, or there are lots of local buses (3 companies) for $1. The SM Visitors Center sent another great map: www.santamonica.com (310-393-7593). Cab from MDR to the ship was $65.
We arrived at the port at 11:45, dropped our luggage with the porters, and waited 10 minutes in line to do the Sea Pass ship card. Then we were sent to the security check area, and a welcome surprise was that passengers didn't have to stand in line, but were seated in a lounge until their number was called. We were on the ship an hour after arriving, having lunch in the Windjammer buffet. Cruisers were asked not to go to their cabins to drop stuff off until after 1:30 to give the stewards time to prep them.
In the afternoon we met our Cruise Critic message board friends, and had some fun drinks at the pool . It was cloudy and chilly, had to keep our clothes on.
Our outside deck 2 aft cabin was ok, not as big as CCL, about the size of NCL, and not as well appointed as Celeb, but adequate. The bedspread looked tired, perhaps a bit worn, or just too many washings, which the steward replaced with new when requested. The loveseat also appeared to have some stains, used by too many sun-screened bodies, didn't say anything, mentioned it on the evaluation. Luggage fits under the side of the king bed if you lift it up, but not at the end, bars in the way. 2 electrical outlets, bring a power bar. Good strong hair dryer, good shampoo, bring conditioner. Free safe. Tipped steward to keep the ice bucket full, and bring an RCI robe for Wendy, great job. Stewards ask cruisers to slip the card that says Make Up Room/Don't Make up Room into the card key door slot so they can fit their work to your desired schedule. Push the black button on the shower temp control to turn the knob further for hotter water. Decent shower pressure, removable wand. On the last day we discovered the glass panels on either side of the makeup mirror on the vanity opened up, duh. We had a nice steady engine sound, we find it puts us to sleep and drowns out strange noises, but if you need quiet you should get a forward cabin.
The ship is lovely, nice public areas. We seem to have a favorite area on every ship, and on the Vision it was the pretty Solarium, an indoor hot tub and pool area with glass walls under a retractable glass ceiling. Pillared Greek style pool, wavy bubbles by the steps, upscale loungers, bar, pizza/burger/fries at back. Always quite warm here, 85-90F, a cosy quiet place, no kids allowed (we saw them kick one out). Salt pool, fresh water shower stalls.
The Windjammer buffet had a nice feature, window seating all round the back and sides, and elevated loveseats in the next row facing the water. The Capt said she was designed for maximum glass areas. An extra food area here is easy to miss, at the end of the buffet lines, past the drink stations, in the center of the Windjammer. At breakfast this is where the pancakes, waffles, omelettes etc are, and extras for lunch and dinner there too.
The gym was adequate, several machines of each type, some free weights, nice views. The jogging track was disappointing because it's on deck 10 going through the loungers above the pool, so joggers are bumping into people in this crowded area when the weather's nice, never seen that setup on any other ship.
The food was excellent, like an upscale restaurant. We've never had ship food on any cruise that we could complain about. Best lemonade ever, full flavor, not diluted. Best ship drinks ever, tasted like doubles, first time for that too. And the first time we've seen standard alternate entrees at dinner, about 5 of them, making a total of about 10 entrée choices for dinner. Sometimes the alternate would be the same as on the main menu but with a different sauce. The two of us sometimes had 3 entrees, splitting the third one, although that tended to wipe out dessert. Tough choices.
There were the usual song and dance shows, lots of energy, and other entertainers like comedians, as well as audience participation shows, lots of fun. Lots of activities for teens and kids. Three of the casual night dinners had dress themes, one was country and western, one was rock and roll, and one was island. Very few people dressed in theme, a few in cowboy hats, more in loud island shirts (like mine), but surprisingly the young hotties didn't do the rock theme. Maybe they think they're already dressed like that.
The casino wasn't busy most of the time, always space at the $5 and $10 BJ tables, and at the slots and video poker.
FIRST SEA DAY
Cloudy and cool till about 2pm when the sun came out and we and everyone else made a dash for loungers. Rather windy but the tough ones stayed for an hour or so, and actually got some rays. Later on we discovered 2 sunny spots protected from the constant wind, see below, day 6 and 7.
CABO SAN LUCAS
The ship anchors in the bay right off Medano beach where the resorts are, and the view is beautiful with the rocks of the Arch on the left, the harbor boats in the middle, and the beach and resorts on the right. It reminded us of the pretty hillside towns in southern Italy. It was lovely to be on deck watching the ship come into the bay and anchor.
Cabo is the only tendered port, and cruisers are allowed on tenders in order of their tender ticket number. People without early numbers didn't get ashore until lunch. Tickets are handed out at 9:30 by the piano in the Centrum on deck 4. If you want an early number you should line up at 9:00, which we did with about 100 other people. Perhaps the crew took pity on our long line and started handing out tickets at 9:15. We got a number 1, and the first numbers were called at 10:00, #'s 1-3 all together. To avoid being in a huge lineup down the stairs to the loading area, be at the loading area at 9:40 or earlier, deck 2, main elevator foyer stairs.
We wanted to get off early to be able to shop and see the town in the morning, and then have lunch and drinks at a resort and hang at their pool/beach for a few hours in the afternoon. We got in the tender line rather late at 10 because we were admiring the gorgeous view on deck, and were in the middle of the mob, but got on a boat by 10:20, (I'd estimate they each hold about 100 people) and ashore by 10:40.
When you get off the tender you can take a lovely walk along the boardwalk into town, or get a cab to the left behind the flea market. Here's the link to a pretty good map of Cabo: www.loscabosguide.com/maps/pics/cabo-san-lucas-map-04.jpg , the ship anchors right were the word "Bahia" is printed over the bay. And the ship tours desk hands out a good map too, in the green shopping guide, easier to read and the boardwalk is better marked. To take the boardwalk stay to the right as you leave the tender dock, and there will be marina boats on your right and pretty shops, cafes, and apts on your left. You can walk all the way to the upscale Puerto Paraiso Mall, perhaps 15-20 minutes, or you can turn left at several places, marked on the ship map, and get over to Marina Blvd, lots more shops there. A good place to turn left is at the large lighthouse, walk up the cobblestone aqueduct about 30 yards to the Blvd. We did this area in the morning.
For the afternoon we wanted to have lunch and drinks and maybe a swim at one of the resorts, catch some rays at the pool/beach, and several large resorts in Cabo welcome cruisers as free day guests, including the Finnisterra near the tender dock, and the Hacienda, Melia, and Pueblo Bonita around the harbor on Medano Beach. The beaches are public, and if you prefer you can throw a towel down on the sand anywhere. We chose the Melia San Lucas. This area is a $6 cab ride from downtown, or a 6 peso (60 cent) bus. We took the bus because we got talking to vacationers staying in Cabo who were going that way and suggested we come along, and we wanted to get some local flavor anyway. So we got on with them and used up some of our loose pesos, and had a little "bus route" tour through Cabo.
The Melia was lovely, beautiful grounds, a series of pools, and loungers at the pools and beach (http://www.solmelia.com/sol/hoteles/jsp/CHome.jsp?idSolRes=5833 They also have large rubberized mattresses on platforms with outdoor pillows that 6-8 people can lay on, both at the pools and the beach, but we preferred loungers (although Wendy said the mattresses would be great for tanning on your tummy, more comfy).
When we entered we went to the girl at the pool kiosk, identified ourselves as day use cruisers, tipped her $5 and requested towels and loungers. She quickly scooted off and came back with 2 big resort towels and offered us either of the only 2 mattress cabanas left. We said if we couldn't find loungers at the beach we'd come back for one, but we found 2 under an umbrella, and ordered drinks and a nacho platter from the waiter for $14. It had lots of great cheese and spicy tomato/pepper sauce and guacamole on the side for scooping. Beautiful view, ship right in front of us, rocks of the Arch to the right. A rope keeps vendors out of the immediate area, but they patrol up and down. We did see one ceramic thing we wanted, and got if for half of the asking price, which is normal.
At the end of the afternoon we decided to walk back to the tender for some exercise, along the beach and then around the harbor to the boardwalk, and along it to the tender dock, which took about 25 minutes. More street vendors, all selling the same things. A lovely full day.
In Mazatlan we wanted to do 2 things, see the historical sights in Old Town where the ship docks, and then go up to the Golden Zone (resort beach area) to do some shopping and hit another resort for some sun and pool/beach time.
Tractor-pulled trams take people from the ship across the dock to the terminal where you pick up cabs. We took a $5 per couple cab ($4 because we split it with another couple) to the Mercado Market, tons of flea market shops in a covered square block, but too touristy, then walked 1 block south to the huge historic cathedral and Revolution Park, pretty area. Wendy sews, and found a local non-tourist fabric store to die for, prices about 10-20% of what she'd pay at home. Then we walked down to the ocean boardwalk, might have been a short $2 or $3 cab, then walked north along the boardwalk to see the cliff divers. Here's a link to a map of Old Town, shows the whole area but many streets not marked: www.advantagemexico.com/mazatlan/images/maz_oldtown.pdf And here's one that has the streets and sights marked: www.pacificpearl.com/images/map3.jpg and here's a suggested walking tour, page 3 of this link: www.guide2mexico.com/cities/mazatlan/mazindex.htm
The cliff divers survived and then we caught a $10 cab to the Golden Zone. We wanted to have lunch with a view of the beach and ocean, and hit El Capitano's on a recommendation, which was good. Lots of tables facing the surf, some live entertainment and dancers, 2 beers and shared combo platter for $10.50. Then hit some shops and then got a $2 cab to the El Cid Castillo, a resort that welcomes cruisers for free day use. Do not bother with the El Cid timeshare people at the dock unless you think 1.5 hours of your time is worth a free lunch and drinks. Don't bother with more of them in the El Cid lobby, just go straight to either of their 2 large pools or beach. Even at peak time, about 2pm, we found loungers, and a waiter got us 2 towels and 2 good margaritas for $7 (he needs to leave your ID with the towel attendant, which you get back when you return your towels to the pool . bring any cheap ID). While there we discovered another great place for a meal, beside the north pool, under the huge thatched roof, called La Concha. Upscale, lovely tables, open air to the sea, other tables outside on a stone patio, great view. $10 cab back to the ship, another day in paradise.
PV time is an hour later than ship time, but the ship advises us not to change our watches. Convenient shopping and nightlife all in one area downtown, rather than split like Mazatlan. In the morning we hit the shops downtown. The expensive cabs are the white ones just off the gangway, about $8-9, but if you walk out to the main drag (3 minutes) and get a yellow cab, it's $4 if you bargain hard and $5 if you bargain easy. They can drop people off near the gangway but can't do pickups there, the white cabs have the gangway contract. Tell the cabbie to take you to the Malecon (beach boardwalk), and drop you at 31 de Octobre street. Often their English is very limited, as was our Spanish, but if we showed them where on the map that worked fine.
The tourist shops and bars are along the beach road, Paseo Diaz Ordaz, starting at 31 de Octobre and going east until you get to Zaragoza street, a pretty treed square with a huge cathedral behind it. On one side of Ordaz are the cafes, bars, and shops, and on the ocean side is a pretty stone boardwalk along the beach. Again the endless peddlers on the shop side, less on the ocean side.
The real local shops with no peddlers and better prices are the next 2 streets in from the ocean running parallel to Ordaz, Marelos first, then Juarez next, running down to Zaragoza. Prices are as marked, no haggling. Wendy found another fabric store, half an hour of heaven. Best price on the #1 vanilla extract, Orlando brand, 120 pesos a litre. Morelos and Juarez are a sea of humanity, mostly locals, but lots of tourists, heavy traffic. We asked about crossing streets, and were told the method translates into "run for your life." Sometimes traffic control cops (?) hold traffic back for tourists.
The tourism people also told us there was good local shopping for 2 blocks in each direction of the Main Plaza at Pitillal (pronounced pity-al), perhaps a mile inland from the ship, a $4-5 cab. The tourism kiosks have maps showing it.
In the afternoon we wanted to hit another resort, and went to the Krystal, a 5-7 minute walk from the ship, which welcomes both cruisers and crew for free day use, no towels included (bring ship towels). Don't go the long way out to the main drag, take the shortcut down the back street. I'll give these directions because there are so many messages asking how, and it is a bit hard to locate. Go off the gangway, walk to the right around the circular building, then across the square in front of the flea market, then head for the large white wall with a yellow wall behind it, go through the gate at the left end of the white wall, and go down this street to the end, where you will see the "Welcome cruisers to the Krystal resort". You can see this route from an upper deck on the dock side of the ship.
The Krystal was lovely, several pools, no umbrellas but didn't need one, loungers scarce at peak time after lunch but we found 2, more of them on the beach under thatched papillas umbrellas. Drinks were $4.50, rather weak. Beach flags show the danger level of the waves, second highest on our day, too much for kids under 12, it would knock them all over, steep dropoff too. Had a lovely afternoon, lots of ship towels all over, walked back to the ship for dinner.
After dinner we took a yellow cab back into town so see the nightlife. The Malecon boardwalk is hopping at night, music from all the party bars, stores open till 10, tons of people. Down at the end of the boardwalk there was a live band playing soft music in the pretty treed square. Across the street beside Hooters there is a small amphitheatre where a comedy troupe was putting on a free show, where you can see several large Greek style arches. The show was very cute, good fun, at times pulling tourists in to be straight men, unicycles, fire batons, gags, lots of gestures, no language barrier. Donations requested, and just about everyone tipped. With a bit of polish they could easily be one of the ship entertainment groups. The show may have started around 7:30 ship time, they were rolling when we got there before 8. After 8 there were fireworks above the beach.
The party bars have staff out front trying to get you in, open air fronts so you can see inside and customers can look out at the street scene, sometimes no cover charge, sometimes a large cover of $30-40 incl free booze all night, some signs offering 10 beer for $11, all had 2 for 1 drinks, quite a scene. Don't go back on Morelos or Juarez at night.
Tons of yellow cabs, just like NYC, no prob getting one back whenever you need one. Sailaway pool b'b'cue at 11. The ship map in their shopping guide is good, rip it out, and here's a link to one: www.allaboutpuertovallarta.com/images/PVdntw1.gif
The first sea day heading home began sunny with a calm sea, but windy and chilly. This wind that other reviewers have mentioned must be a permanent trade wind or something, because it was always blowing, even on this perfect day. It was borderline warm by the pool, lots of people with tops on or towels wrapped around them. Too windy and cold to sit on the loungers above the pool, no one there. We strolled all over and actually found 2 sunny places without the wind . see note #2 below. The bow location is busier, more people walking past on the track. Other location is more secluded.
The last sea day, Saturday, started beautifully, ocean almost glassy calm, blue sky. Even so there was still that stiff chilly breeze on deck. Only a few die-hard tanners were in the loungers, bundled up. We got a few rays in our sheltered bow spot, and then the clouds rolled in about 9:30, so we went to breakfast. Overcast and cold the rest of the morning, and at noon the captain made his daily announcements, saying that the weather would get cloudier and windier in the afternoon, with higher seas. He turned out to be a better seaman than a weatherman, because after 12 the sea got a bit choppy, but it turned mainly sunny all afternoon. No one could sit above the pool on deck 10, all those loungers were empty, it would blow your sunglasses and hat right off. Somewhat better at the pool, loungers all taken, maybe half the people with tops on. Just lovely in our protected spot at the bow. We hit lunch just before the buffet closed at 2:30, then back in the sun till dinner time. Our friends in a mini-suite on deck 8 couldn't tan on their balcony, the overhang went too far out.
Luggage out in the hall by 11pm.. In the morning cruisers are asked to be out of their cabins by 8. Dining room closes at 8, buffet closes at 8:30. Final ship accounts are delivered to cabins early Sunday morning for checking. Debarking is by color code as usual, and the first was called at 7:50. After leaving the ship and entering the terminal there was a 45 minute wait in line for customs. Then you get your luggage, each color tag in a separate room, and leave the terminal, total time for us was 1 hour 20 minutes. The sidewalk in front of the terminal is for private pickups, and if you want a cab or shuttle you cross over to the island where a taxi coordinator radios for them. Another ship was debarking beside us, but there were tons of cabs, and we had one in 5 minutes, and were off to LAX for $43. Super Shuttle and Prime Time Shuttle are about $30/couple to LAX, need to pre-book.
TIPS & NOTES
1. Internet: Need to check your email? The ship is expensive as usual, 50 cents a minute, sometimes pretty fast, more often slow. Crown and Anchor booklet has coupon for 10 minutes free. Have to submit coupon same day used. Great internet ashore, often $1/hour! In Cabo a good one about halfway down Marina Blvd, just 1 block off the Blvd on the left in a plaza, ask any of the tourist kiosks, they're very helpful. In Maz there's one a block from the cathedral, rec'd as cheap, but didn't get there. In PV the one off the gangway is expensive, $3 for 15 minutes. In town it's $1/hour at a place at Juarez and Aldama, fast connection, about 5 pesos (50 cents) for about half an hour. Another place on Ordaz, the beach strip, 2 doors east of McDonalds, don't know the rates.
2. Protected tanning locations: On our strolls we only found 2 sunny places protected from the winds. One was on deck 10 (jogging track) up at the bow in front of the 5 foot glass panels. The other was also on deck 10, behind the Solarium. There are no loungers there, you have to drag them in from the side of the ship.
3. Menus: We had to look around to find the daily menus, they aren't displayed at the doors to the dining room, but back about 20 feet in the wine display cases.
4. Tipping: RCI has 2 nice tipping features. The ship gives people the choice of putting tips on your Sea Pass card or handling it yourself, a nice choice the other cruise lines don't do, with others you have to cancel them off the ship card if you want to do it yourself. Also another nice feature, if you put the tips on your ship card, you get vouchers to put in the tip envelopes to give the staff which shows you tipped through the ship.
5. Money. Don't bother bringing large bills like 20's, they're just a nuisance, only good for large purchases like private shore tours. No one can or wants to change them, cabs, bar waiters, food waiters, and if they do you often get a bunch of pesos to try and get rid of. Plus wasted time waiting for change. It's best to pay close to the exact amount and be gone. It's good to have about $50-70 in ones, about 20-25 fives, and 5 or 10 tens for generally getting around. Don't use the ones until you need to.
6. Comfy. If you like a terry robe in the cabin, but your cabin category doesn't include one, you can ask (or tip) the steward to get you one, and RCI's policy is to fill your request.
Lovely cruise, hi to our new shipmates Gary and Betty, lots of fun together, hope your hangovers don't last too long :-) Here's the link to our cruise photos, should be posted by April: http://community.webshots.com/user/rob42ca Email us if you have questions.
Bob & Wendy Bob7@canoemail.com
This was our 6th cruise, 4th with the RCCL. There were 70 people in our "Hot Rod Cruise Group." We enjoyed the cruise and rated it good to excellent overall. We were able to board the ship by noon and it all went smoothly. We are not picky eaters but enjoyed all the food and thought many dishes were excellent. We ate every breakfast and lunch at the Windjammer or at the pool for hamburgers or pizza. Our waiter was good but we did not receive the normal cruise service we have come to expect. But he was friendly and always had a smile. Every night we had to give him our standing orders of drinks, etc. and the service was slow. Several of our other tables had excellent service. The entertainment was enjoyable and had lots of variety. My favorite was the group who did the tribute to the Temptations. We participated in the 50's night.
We are antique car owners and builders this is the era we enjoy the most. We also joined in on the Vision Quest. This not to be missed! It is an adult typesavenger hunt. Of course 2 of our groups won the prizes. My friend Kathy won the hula hoop contest and was able to set a new record of 31 hoops! The Newlywed game was hilarious too. I enjoyed that the hot tubs are now open until midnight. We did our own tours in Cabo and Mazatlan but signed up for the Historic Towns and Tequila making tour with RCCL. It was an excellent tour as we experienced the true flavor of Mexico. We enjoyed seeing the small towns around the city and visited a wood carving studio and a tortilla factory. We enjoyed the stop at the old world tequila making factory. Pacho was a delight and the great grandson of the founders. This was a bargain at only $28.00 each. The snorkeling in Santa Maria Bay was nice but the water very cool this time of the year. The fish were plentiful and we would do it again. I would also sign up for this cruise and this ship again. If fact several of us thought we could do this every few years as it is a reasonable price for us as we live on the west coast. I have found with cruising go with the right attitude and make some of your own fun and you will have a blast!
We loved this ship. The atrium is gorgeous. Loved the glass elevator too. The rooms are tiny and awkward to get around. Not a good layout plan. We had the large inside on deck 4. It was a fine location. We were near the musical entertainment ,in the atrium.
The food was decent but not great. The service was wonderful. The entertainment exceptionally great and fun. The thing that made this ship take you into another dimension was that nearly everywhere , there was music, heavenly music. We had to stop and dance on our way to wherever we were going, and several stops for a dance by the time we got where we were going. It was heavenly. Loved RCCL fun energy and atmosphere. It is a gorgeous ship.
This was my sixth cruise, the second on Royal Caribbean. (The other four cruises were all on Carnival.) We chose the Alaska itinerary because I've always wanted to cruise to Alaska, and RCL was our pick because we had enjoyed our 1993 honeymoon cruise to the Bahamas on Majesty of the Seas and probably more importantly, because that particular cruise fit into the 2-week period that we had without our kids!
My husband Greg and I are both 48 years old. I'm an attorney and he's a private investigator.
We booked the air-sea package and also a Cruise Tour that included two days on land, Alyeska and Anchorage, for a total of nine days.
DAY 1, FRIDAY JULY 9, 2004 - Arrival and sailing
Awakening at 5:45 a.m., we were on the road by 6:15 a.m. We drove to my parents' house and my dad gave us a ride to Los Angeles International Airport to catch our 10:20 a.m. flight to Vancouver.
We had more than two hours to wait before the flight. Alaska Airlines has a do-it-yourself boarding pass system that's a bit daunting if you've not done it before. I discovered thatmy bag was 3 pounds overweight so I shifted some of the weight to my garment bag. Alaska Airlines is STRICT on the weight thing. You're allowed only 50 pounds per bag.
(They were also BRUTAL on baggage handling. My brand-new duffel bag was trashed by the end of the trip, requiring duct tape to repair both ends.)
The flight left on time. It was a tight squeeze with sardine-like seating. Some lucky folks in the back of the plane had empty seats around them due to a connecting flight not making it in time, but not us.
We arrived in Vancouver a bit early. We got off the plane and were met by a RCL representative. We had been instructed NOT to pick up our luggage; it would be tagged through to the ship and handled by RCL's porters. That made me nervous, not being sure that my luggage made it. (Ours did, but some other folks' did not..more about that later.)
We stood in line for a short time and were then herded onto buses for the trip from the airport to the cruise ship terminal. The trip took 45 minutes and I tried to see as much of Vancouver as I could. This was strictly transportation, not a city tour; I found myself wishing for a tour guide! We weren't exactly taken through the nicest parts of town. We did get a look at the famous Vancouver skyline at one point.
We arrived at the cruise terminal and went through check-in and Immigration. It went smoothly and quickly. We had to go through both Canadian and U.S. immigration because we were leaving Canada to go back to the U.S. (Alaska). Finally we headed to the ship and after the obligatory security photo and the first of many cruise ship photos, we arrived at our cabin for the week.
We were on Deck 7, Cabin 7106, a category D-1 balcony stateroom. It was beautiful. To us it was huge, the biggest cabin we've ever had. The balcony was terrific. We spent a lot of time during the cruise on that balcony, gazing at scenery and looking at the whales through binoculars. (Now that we've experienced the joys of a balcony, we can never go back to "just" a normal room!)
In my opinion, a balcony room is the ONLY way to go on an Alaskan cruise. Sure, you can go to the public decks and look out, but there's nothing like having your own personal balcony without crowds to fight. Plus you can stand out there in your jammies.
The bathroom was small. Carnival does have bigger bathrooms. However, it was adequate, and I'd rather have more square footage in the actual ROOM than a bigger bathroom. One tip that I'd read on a cruise review was to bring clothes pins to weigh down the shower curtain. I used half a dozen wooden ones. It really did help to keep the water contained to the shower rather than flooding the whole bathroom (which happened on our previous RCL cruise, Majesty of the Seas).
Clothes pins are also handy for drip-drying clothes. I used the clothes line that was in the shower to dry my exercise gear, PJs and swimsuit. A drawback of this ship (and maybe all of RCL) is NO self-service laundry room, unlike Carnival that had a laundry room for passengers' use on every other deck. If you want something laundered, you must send it out for a rather steep fee. My husband sent his jeans out to be washed for a cost of $4.00. Carnival also provides ironing boards and irons in those self-service laundries. I don't know if RCL loans these out. Fortunately we brought things that didn't need pressing.
We had some time before the ship was to leave, so we went to the Windjammer restaurant and chowed down. The fare at the Windjammer is good. Not great, but good, and plentiful.
As with all cruises, we had to endure the icky Muster Drill as we left Vancouver. We were mashed together on the deck, clad in those uncomfortable sticky orange life vests. Then it was over and the fun began. We stood on our balcony and watched Vancouver go by. I had purchased a map and it was fun to hold it up and compare it to the passing scenery such as Stanley Park and Lions' Gate Bridge. We sailed an hour late, at 6 p.m. rather than 5, due to late- arriving passengers.
The entire lobby area next to the stairs was full of luggage as the stewards desperately tried to unite passengers with their bags. We received three of our four bags by 5 p.m. and got the last one shortly thereafter. I was very relieved to see the bags! (Others were not so lucky. We met one fellow, Jim, whose baggage did not arrive. Jim was given $200 in ship credit to buy T-shirts and a hat and was given a free tux rental for the formal night, which was the second night. The ship laundered his one set of clothes each night. He received his bags two days later in Ketchikan. We also met a woman who NEVER received her bags. They were left behind in Seattle. She said that she asked the purser's office every single day about her bags, but never got them. She received a small allowance for ship apparel and bought some underwear in Ketchikan. The ship gave her a gown to wear for formal night and some shoes, which were too big for her. She gave the gown and shoes back after using them. She had a good attitude, saying 'At least laundry won't be difficult when I get home'! I can't imagine not having my bags. That would be awful. Both these people had the foresight to bring carry-ons with some clothing and their medications, etc., or they really would have been in trouble.)
Exhausted from starting off so early that morning, we napped until it was time to get ready for the 7 p.m. show for 2nd seating dinner guests. RCL differed from Carnival in that our show was usually at 7 p.m., BEFORE dinner, rather than after dinner at 10:30-10:45 p.m. This proved to be both good and bad. The good part was I didn't usually sleep through the show. What was also good was that the show was never crowded, because lots of people failed to show up! One time I walked by the 1st seating show (which occurred during our dinner time) and saw that the place was PACKED.
The bad part was that it was often hard to get to a 7 p.m. show, particularly during port days. One night we missed the show because our tour didn't get back until after 8 p.m.
The show was in the Masquerade Theater, which gets an A+ from us. It features comfortable individual seats with built-in cup holders in the armrests, not benches like on Carnival with annoying little tables that impede traffic and bump your shins as you move around. Even better, there were no pillars to block sight lines. Both the Carnival Elation and Ecstasy had huge pillars that blocked sight lines of half the theater, it seemed!
My husband pointed out that the individual seats eliminated the constant problem we encountered on Carnival: people hogging the benches, taking up more than one place per person, and "saving" large areas for family or friends (despite a stated 'no saving seats' policy).
We were always able to get seats right up close, probably due to the 7 p.m. seating. Another good thing is the Vision does not hold 'Bingo' in the theater just before shows, like Carnival did. On Carnival, if you don't attend Bingo, you don't get a good seat for the shows. It was almost like they forced you to do Bingo if you wanted a decent seat. (Bingo on the Vision was done in One Enchanted Evening, a nightclub.)
The show: The cruise director, Parker opened it. He was nice enough but really didn't exude much charisma. Other cruise directors had a lot more showmanship-charisma. First there was a preview of shows to come. The main event was a couple called 'Los Diablos Gauchos' who did bolero tricks and used a passenger as a dupe. It was entertaining and quite amusing.
After the show: Dinner at 8:30. We had been assigned to Table 97. When we arrived, we found the table full except for one seat! Obviously there was a mistake someplace. We reported the problem to a waiter, who found the Matire d' who took Greg's SeaPass card and disappeared. We waited a bit anxiously until he returned and escorted us to a larger table, Table 102, right next to the window (Yay! The old table was not next to a window.) We were very pleased to find our tablemates quite likeable. There were three other couples: Linda and Caroline from Georgia, Walter and Daphne from Maine, and Kim and Humberto, "youngsters" from Miami relocating to Chicago. We became fast friends with them all immediately and each night, the eight of us were just about the last to leave the dining room. We didn't want to part! Toward the end of the cruise, we'd meet up with our tablemates in either the casino or the bars and hang out all night together.
Our table was very fair about who got to sit in the best seats, facing the window. We rotated each night!
We met our waiter and assistant waiter. Our waiter, Sheryl Sanchez Medianesta from the Philippines, announced that it was her first day on this cruise line. But she did a stellar job throughout the cruise, always "right on" with her recommendations, and learned our first names by the second night. She also did something I'd never seen on a cruise: for dessert, she brought one of each dessert to the table for us to sample. (Fortunately no one was squicked at eating off the same plate!) I loved that idea. It's better to see and taste the dish rather than guessing at what it is from a menu.
Richard Philip from Trinidad-Tobago was our assistant waiter. He had a jovial, engaging personality, always smiling and laughing at our usually AWFUL jokes. He learned quickly what drinks everyone liked. Somehow he managed to get us diet cokes every night without our having to pay extra (although they were watered down terribly) and remembered that we like chocolate milk.
Even the headwaiter was nice. On other cruises, the headwaiter has been scarce or non-existent. This one came around to make sure everything was all right and learned our names as well. One morning as I walked bleary-eyed through the Windjammer, he greeted me with a happy "Hello Karen"!
On Carnival, we were in the habit of ordering Cappuccinos every night after dinner. They were provided without charge. We got a nasty surprise that on the Vision; they carried a $3.50 bar price tag! I read that the cruise lines are getting chintzy about such drinks, so maybe Carnival now charges as well for Cappuccinos. We stopped drinking so many. The same was true with Cokes. On Carnival, they were gratis at dinner; not so on RCL. Where Richard got his watered-down stash, we didn't know, and we didn't ask.
Another thing to know is the "bar" in the room is a total rip off. Soft drink cans cost an outrageous $3.50 apiece and the water is $4, I think. The "bar" took up prime real estate on a shelf that I wanted for my books, so I moved the tray of drink cans and bottles to the closet and asked the steward to take it away. We later found it under the bed.
On this first night, Greg and I both had Alaskan baked cod. The Béarnaise sauce that came with it was delicious. The tomato bisque soup was very good, as was the spinach salad.
The food on the cruise was mostly quite good, with a few misses; I did not find the beef all that good. The fish was tasty, however.
After dinner, to the casino. Greg lost $20 in three minutes. I didn't play the first night and wished that I had foregone the experience entirely, as I lost far too much in that casino over the course of the cruise. Those slots are TIGHT. Greg did better, mostly at blackjack, until the end of the cruise when it all disappeared. Think of cruise casinos as entertainment, not an opportunity to win, because you probably won't!
Then to bed! We were beat! (Our bed was nicely turned out, but that first night there was no replacement washcloth, no towel animal, and no mint! The rest of the trip was better. Towels were replaced, and we always got animals and mints.)
DAY 2, SATURDAY JULY 10, 2004 - At Sea
We woke up at nearly 10 a.m. and thus missed breakfast in the dining room, a shame because we love sit-down breakfast. We went to the alternative dining in the Windjammer. I gave it a lukewarm rating: Bacon - too crumbly. Omelet - So-so. Mushrooms were raw, not sautéed. The coffee was just so-so. There was no real cream in the Windjammer; you can only get real half-and-half in the dining room.
After breakfast, we spent time hanging out in the room. It was nice to kick back with no excursions on the first day. The whole day was nice like that, just relax and do whatever the spirit moves you to do. On other cruises, it's been 'go-go-go' from the first minute, and I've been exhausted. I happen to LOVE "sea days". Breakfast had filled us up, so we skipped lunch. I wandered over to the Photo area and found our embarkation photo. I was pleased to see that the Photo shop was quite roomy and not mobbed (at least at this early stage in the cruise) like Carnival's always was. Then I explored the shops. I like RCL's price guarantee policy, although I imagine that getting written proof of price from the competing store is too much of a hassle for most people.
About the Photo studio: They did a nice job. The formal pictures were, on the main, quite good. My only criticism is about our group table photo taken on the second to last night. Only two copies were made for the 8 of us, and I wasted a hour in the Photo shop hunting for that photo, not knowing that two tablemates had beaten me to it and already bought the group photo. Once I found out, I had to borrow a photo from one of them and have the shop make me a copy. Once that was handled, I was happy with the finished product. (Kudos to Ankur Vinay in the Photo shop for assisting me with this, even though the place was MOBBED.)
The shops were pretty good on the Vision. You could find most popular souvenirs like little plastic key chain animals that 'pooped' when you squeezed them (although by the end of the cruise, every one of them was squeezed out!), calendars, cups, T-shirts and the like. We bought a lovely Russian Faberge egg necklace at the ship's shop.
I worked out in the gym. You cannot earn "Ship Shape Bucks" by working out, but I did snag one for doing the Mile Walk around the ship. Four laps equals one mile. (I was hell-bent to accumulate enough bucks for a T-shirt. As it turned out, with the Spinning classes that I took and Greg giving me his Mile Walk bucks, I managed to score a plastic RCL backpack, glory be.)
That first day was the only day it was really cold. I foolishly did the walk in only a jog bra and bike shorts while Greg wisely wore a parka. I ended up wearing two towels as a poncho. (RCL has stacks of beach towels for the taking, unlike Carnival, which makes passengers sign for each and every towel.) The weather throughout the trip was warmish, in the 60's and 70's. Even the day at Hubbard Glacier was pleasant. I rarely needed more than my windbreaker and fleece vest.
After the Mile Walk, we went to the indoor Jacuzzi, but only briefly because we were sailing the Grenville Channel and we wanted to watch it as it narrowed. It was very neat to see land so close to both sides of the ship. It was so close it looked like you could just about touch it.
On the top deck, people were excitedly scanning for bald eagles with binoculars. "Look at that white dot up there; it's a bald eagle" ! but we had no binoculars with us. We rushed to our cabin, but alas saw no bald eagles.
Having skipped lunch, we were starving. One unfortunate thing about the Vision is both the dining room and the Windjammer are closed between the hours of 4 pm and dinner. Other than waiting around for room service, the one and only choice is the Solarium where the fare is very limited: hamburgers, hot dogs and personal pizzas. My choice is the latter. The pizzas are hot and tasty, although one has to wait a while to have them heated up.
I would have loved a place to get fresh fruit and things like cottage cheese or pudding between meals, but it was not available. Not even ice cream was available.
This was the first formal night. Greg wore his tux and I wore a long black skirt and camisole with a matching black and white jacket. I also wore my new Faberge egg purchased from the ship's shop, an early anniversary gift. We had our formal photograph taken at all four stations, as it increases the odds of getting a good photo! We also took a couple of amateur shots outside on the deck after drafting fellow passengers as photographers.
We went o the Captain's cocktail party for about ten seconds, just to grab a glass of champagne. It was so crowded it was ridiculous, plus the timing conflicted with the time to take formal photos. The place was so mobbed that we couldn't even see the stage where the ship officials were speaking.
Dinner time. The lobster bisque was not good, nor was the oxtail soup (Walter at our table pronounced it "a decent beef broth".) Greg had escargot and despite his needling, I refused to touch that! The beef tenderloin was very moist (one of the few good beef dishes on this cruise). The asparagus was mushy, not crisp as I like it. Dessert was soufflé. I had to ask to have it warmed up. I also tried the cherry cheesecake, which was excellent, although Greg scoffed at it as not 'real' cheesecake.
Showtime, "Broadway Rhythm and Rhyme" performed by the Royal Caribbean Singers and Dancers, was at 10:45 p.m., the only time the show was after dinner. I fell asleep! It was a very average, ordinary show featuring various famous show tunes. The best was "All That Jazz" from "Chicago", which was well done with the singers behind barred grates simulating jail cells. The "West Side Story" rendition was so-so. The rest of the show was forgettable.
I found the ship's dancers and singers to be quite mediocre, which is surprising since RCL is reputed to have excellent entertainment. I found the OUTSIDE entertainers to be much better.
After the show ended, we high-tailed it to our cabin. We had to get up at 6 a.m. for our 7:30 a.m. Ketchikan excursion the next morning, the Misty Fjords Seaplane Adventure. Thank God that Alaska time is one hour earlier than Pacific Standard Time.
DAY 3, SUNDAY JULY 11, 2004 - Ketchikan
We overslept half an hour, waking at 6:30 a.m. The alarm went off at 6 but we just couldn't get up. We dressed and hurried to the Windjammer for breakfast. There was an INSANELY long line there, so we figured that the dining room would be quicker. Er, not exactly. I ordered oatmeal and eggs over easy; Greg ordered eggs benedict. I got the oatmeal promptly and polished it off. The eggs over easy and Greg's order never came. By 7:15 a.m. we had to leave because we needed to be on the pier by 7:20 for our 7:30 a.m. excursion.
The maitre-d' later told us that had we told him that we were in a hurry, he would have given us a two-person table with our own waiter. Oh well, live and learn.
We were the last to get on the bus for the Misty Fjords Seaplane trip. (Cost: $217 each, two hours.) The short bus ride through the damp town was narrated by the driver, a pleasant young woman named "Misty" (really) from Tacoma, WA. She said the town hires slews of workers for the summer and even houses them. She told us that the 14,000 permanent residents of Ketchikan work the tourist season of May-October and live off their earnings the rest of the year.
We arrived at Protech Aircraft and were split into groups. A young woman named Tanya from India joined us for a 4-person helicopter. (Tanya ended up with us on the Glacier Dogsled helicopter trip in Juneau as well.) Our pilot was a crusty fellow named "Steve" who gave me the impression that he wasn't really thrilled with his job - carting tourists about. Tanya's repeated requests for him to take photos of her didn't help things. We went up in the air after a short safety briefing. Unfortunately (and typically, I've learned) the weather was cloudy and it was hard to see things, but Steve gamely tried to give us a good view. The high point of the trip was landing on a lake and actually getting out! I gingerly crawled out of my rear seat and balanced on the runner of the plane. Wow, I was standing in the middle of a lake!
Tanya managed to mince her way to the back and let Greg sit in front for the return trip. We tipped Steve $5.
We were bused back to the dock, a very short ride. Then we had plenty of time to bum around the town. There were GOBS of souvenir/T-shirt shops; in every port we visited there were many shops selling the same stuff. I bought a pajama top-pant set for our 14-year-old daughter embellished with a glow-in-the-dark wolf, and a T-shirt for our 10-year-old son with the same wolf.
We went to the "red light district", Creek Street and visited "Dolly's House", a famous house of ill repute. The house thrived from 1919 until prostitution was made illegal in the late 1950's, and Dolly worked as a madam into her 70's. For $5 we received a self-guided tour through the carefully preserved rooms. It was fairly interesting, although in retrospect I think I would have liked a guided tour better (it wasn't available to us; I think those may have to be booked ahead of time and the ship didn't offer it). Then we took an elevator ride ($2) to the top of a mountain where there was a hotel complex and some totem poles.
It was now 12:30 p.m. so we headed back to the ship for lunch. We were starving since I had little breakfast and Greg had none! We ate in the Aquarius dining room, open seating. My hamburger was just so-so.
The ship was scheduled to sail at 2 p.m., so I perched on our balcony and watched the town fade away. Meanwhile, Greg took a nap, sleeping for three solid hours. At 3 p.m. I went to Some Enchanted Evening lounge to hear the on-board historian's lecture about Alaska statehood. Perhaps it was the dimmed lights, the historian's droning voice, the fact that I was tired, or all of the above, because I dozed through some of the lecture! The parts that I did hear were interesting, accompanied by a slide show. It was about the founding of Alaska, William Seward, the Stampeder Gold Rush in the 1890's, etc.
At 4 p.m. I had signed up for Spinning class at Vision Day Spa. Using the gym is free, but classes cost $10 each. (You must sign up ahead of time because there were only nine bikes. If you fail to show or cancel within a set time, you're charged anyway.) That class kicked my behind! The teacher, a petite, energetic woman named "Miwra" (phonetic spelling) kept exhorting us "You can do better than that"! I thought I was going to DIE when I gave it my 'all' when it was our side's turn to ride as fast as we could. At least the class was worth TWO ship shape dollars.
After class I managed to walk the mile and collect another ship shape dollar. Gotta earn that T-shirt. Dollar total to date: 5. (T-shirts cost 8.)
Back at the cabin, I woke up Greg and we went out to the balcony where the sun had at last managed to break out of the clouds. There we saw our first whale! We were so excited and he took photos with his telephoto lens.
The day's Cruise Compass announced that dress for the evening was "Casual/Country Western". Time for a gripe. There were two "themed" nights of which we were given absolutely no advance notice, County Western and 50's. We scrounged in our wardrobes for appropriate clothing, mainly coming up with jeans, denim shirts, and for C.W. night I copied the Purser's staff by tying my workout bandana around my neck bandito-style. If we had been notified in advance (before we left!) we could have packed things like saddle shoes (which I happen to own) or cowboy boots (ditto). The ship advises passengers of the number of formal nights; why not let us know about the themed nights?
Our show at the Masquerade Theater was at 7 p.m. We found abundant empty seats despite arriving 15 minutes late (we had our portrait taken again). (This was not true for the 9 p.m. show. When I took a peek, every seat appeared to be taken. There must have been many no-shows for the 7 p.m.) We regretted turning up late, because the singer was EXCELLENT. Her name was Michelle Murlin, and her rendition of "Midnight" from Cats was one of the most haunting renditions I've ever heard. We purchased her CD after the show.
Following Michelle was a comedy ventriloquist named Brad Cummings. He was absolutely hilarious. Since we were sitting up front dead center, he used both Greg and me in his show, but the main audience contributor was a hapless fellow sitting to our left named "Nick". He put on a stellar performance as the ventriloquist's dummy.
Then it was off to dinner. We ALWAYS had dinner at the Aquarius dining room. I don't understand why anyone would trade a 5-star dining experience where they wait on you hand and foot for the mundane self-service buffet in the Windjammer. Dinner is a highlight of the cruise, in my opinion. Plus we looked forward to spending time with our tablemates at Table 102. They were all so very entertaining! (By Day 3 *no* subject was taboo for our table!)
Tonight's dinner was Italian themed, punctuated by whale sightings out the window. In summer in Alaska, it stays light until 11:30 p.m., so we had plenty of daylight even during 2nd seating dinner. When someone saw a whale, the entire dining room would abandon their tables and rush to the windows. I felt bad for the wait staff that worked hard to get hot food to their guests, only to have the table emptied in favor of the whales.
We hit the casino after dinner. Greg won $137 at the slots and $35 at blackjack. I lost $30, adding to my previous losses.
DAY 4, MONDAY JULY 12, 2004 - Skagway
We arose at 8:10 a.m. and headed to breakfast at the Aquarius. Service was excruciatingly slow, but at least this time we didn't have to be on the pier until 10:15 a.m.
The Port of Skagway is currently the number three cruise port in the State of Alaska by number of cruise ship passengers, behind Juneau and Ketchikan. There were several other ships at the dock by the time we arrived, including the mammoth Celebrity ship Summit. (We were jealous: they had hot chocolate and orange juice for their passengers at their gangway!)
When you arrive at the port, you see on the cliff face adjacent to the pier many painted rocks with the 'graffiti' of various ships' names and logos complete with dates. In essence, it's a painted rock "guestbook". RCL's logo was predominately displayed along with Celebrity's, Commodore's, Carnival's, etc.
We had signed up for two tours at this port. A note about the tours: we were given the opportunity to sign up ahead of time on the Internet. It was a daunting task because there were so MANY choices in the four ports. But I urge you to do so. Those who waited to sign up on the ship were met with two things: (1) ENORMOUS long lines at the Shore Excursions desk, and (2) sold-out popular tours. Regarding the sold-out part, the operators seemed to be able to add tours to accommodate people, but there were still long lines to contend with at the Shore Excursions desk.
I did my homework about the tours via the Internet and guidebooks, plus asked some friends who had taken Alaskan cruises. All in all, we were happy with our choices. Yes, you can probably get the same or similar tours cheaper at the Ports, but it's a hassle to coordinate timing and you don't get the guarantee from the ship that they won't leave without you. Usually it's not an issue but there was one tour that did not get back until shortly before the ship sailed; I would hate to have to worry about being left behind!
Our first tour in Skagway was "Ghosts & Goodtime Girls: Historical Walking Tour" ($39 for two hours). The gimmick of this tour is the tour guide: a young woman decked out in black and red Victorian-era "hooker" garb. Her purse was in the form of a black leather corset. Our guide was very entertaining and engaging, teaching us on the brief bus ride to town how hookers and pimps arrive at their stage names: combine the name of your childhood pet and the street you grew up on. Mine was Aristotle Stoakes. Good name for a pimp! A couple other names were Fluffy Harrison and Snowball Thunderbird.
Our guide took us on a walking trip throughout town, explaining it from the point of view of a young woman who made her living "entertaining" men in this tough-scrabble town. We learned about the origin of the words "hooker" and "red light district". The tour ended at the Red Onion Hotel, the site of the town's brothel, which is preserved upstairs as a museum. We were served a drink (we had diet coke) and given a short guided tour of the brothel.
Was the cost worth it? Yes and no. We learned that the U.S. Park Service gives a historical walking tour for free, and that the U.S. Park Service trained our guide! However, the Goodtime Girls give a fun twist to the talk, and our guide was very pretty and my husband enjoyed flirting with her. The "Ghost" part was a bit lacking; all we heard about ghosts was that a small cabin on the tour route was supposedly haunted.
A word of advice for Skagway: bring (and wear!) insect repellant. We foolishly left ours behind in the cabin, and those critters buzzed around us as the weather warmed up. I didn't get bitten, but I slapped at many of them landing on my skin.
The tour ended at 11:30 a.m. We walked through the tiny town (just a couple of blocks) and stopped at the Alaska T-shirt Company, which was really crowded and featured the surliest salespeople in Alaska. (The young male clerk grabbed my money and tossed my bag at me with nary a word.) We had about an hour and half before our second tour, "White Pass Scenic Railway", so we hiked back to the ship for a quick bite to eat in the Windjammer and to dump our jackets and excess baggage.
Then it was time for the railroad trip ($98 for 3 ½ hours). This was TERRIFIC and I cannot recommend it highly enough. Known as the "scenic railway of the world", the railroad was built in 1898 during the Klondike Gold Rush. The narrow gauge railroad follows a 20-mile path that the stampeders took on foot and mule in order to hunt for gold. Instead of sitting in comfortable plush vintage railroad cars like us, they had to lug 1,000 pounds of supplies, making many trips which took many weeks. (At 40 pounds per trip, that meant SIXTY round trips back and forth over the rugged, uneven, mountainous terrain in arctic conditions, not the balmy summer weather we enjoyed.) How they did this is beyond me. We saw the remains of White Pass Trail. Dead Horse Gulch is aptly named - that's where the unfortunate pack animals, exhausted, overworked and overloaded, collapsed and tumbled to their deaths down the steep mountain.
The scenery was breathtaking, despite somewhat cloudy conditions. I stood on the platform quite a bit to take photographs. The trip was somewhat marred by a noisy, boisterous trio of "20-something" males in our car and a crying baby at the end, but even with those irritants it remains a highlight of our trip.
After returning to the ship, we had to hurriedly shower and dress for dinner. Alas, we missed the 7 p.m. show for Second Seating passengers, a comedian-magician. (We heard mixed reviews from passengers who attended.)
Dinner was fun as always with our wonderful tablemates. Afterwards we went to the casino, although by then I could barely keep my eyes open. After losing $20 at blackjack and $15 at video poker, I called it a night. Greg managed to win $100 at blackjack.
DAY 5, TUESDAY JULY 13, 2004 - Juneau
Awoke at 8 a.m. Hurried to the Aquarius for breakfast where again, service was slow, but this time we were actually fed in time.
Met our bus on the pier at 9:50 a.m for our excursion: "Glacier Dogsled Adventure via Helicopter" ($419 each, 3 hours, 15 minutes.) The bus took us to Temsco Helicopters Inc., the tour provider. This package was very pricey and I balked at first, but Greg talked me into it, arguing that it was the opportunity of a lifetime. It turned out to be well worth it. Our weights were noted to ensure balance in the helicopters. The disclaimer that Temsco makes participants sign on the bus ride over is ridiculous - it's full of things like signing away any right to litigate anything, including their negligence or even willful actions! I took Torts in law school 23 years ago, but I know that it's not worth the paper it's written on. One of the guides said it was from their parent company, an oil company. Obviously an overzealous legal department wrote it.
But of course we signed it. At the Temsco site, we were issued booties that fit over our shoes and herded outside to the helicopters. We were put into a group that included our next-door neighbors on the ship, a grandma and her two grandkids, and Tanya from India. Then we were introduced to our pilot, a pleasant man named Steve (I think that ALL pilots in Alaska must be named Steve; at least this one wasn't surly like the other Steve). We climbed aboard, put on headsets, and set off to the glaciers.
Steve narrated as we gaped at the unworldly beauty of the glaciers. I had no idea they looked like this, with deep ridges called "crevasses". We saw blue ice, a natural phenomenon. The view was breathtaking despite cloudy conditions and smoke from a wild fire in Canada. Steve kept saying, 'Here's another Kodak moment!"
Eventually we landed on top of Norris Glacier where the Dog Camp was set up. Dozens of dog houses ("Dogloos") dotted the mountaintop. Beyond them were white canvas tents where the crew lived. Our guide was Greta Smith, a very nice 23-year-old Alaska native who obviously loves her job. We received a safety briefing about the sleds, a photo op (Greta gladly took photos for the three of us, Greg, Tanya and me) and then we set off on the sleds. Greg and I were on one sled and Greta and Tanya had the other.
Greg and I took turns sitting and guiding. I liked sitting in the sled a lot more than guiding it. While guiding, I managed to lose both my map and water bottle as we sped along. Tip: don't carry anything loose in your pockets!
After about half an hour of sledding, we stopped and were allowed to meet and pet the sweaty dogs. Some were Iditarod champs and quite a few were older dogs. One was 11 years old. Greta is training for the 2005 Iditarod, a grueling 1,112-mile marathon race from Anchorage to Nome. She gave us a slip with her website addie on it. (http://www.greta-smith.com/) She told us that the crew stays 10 days on the mountain and then gets two days off in Juneau, where they shower and mostly drink at the pubs. She said that they could shower on the mountain as she did that morning, using heated snow, but most don't bother, as it's a hassle. She can't stand going that long without a shower.
Steve returned with the next helicopter full of tourists and took us away. The return flight was much briefer, a pity since I finally got a front seat! The best "Kodak Moment" was a black bear on the mountain, a tiny black dot that Greg saw but I managed to miss.
Back at Temsco's building we returned our overshoes, claimed our luggage (no room for backpacks and such on the copters, plus they weigh too much) and decided to give a miss to the $14 snapshot that the crew took of us. (It was just a 3 x 5 face shot squinting into the sun against a stock backdrop of glacier and dogs). We were bused back to town where we wandered for a couple of hours in the shops. At the Red Dog Saloon we saw Wyatt Earp's pistol on the wall, but cleared out of there quickly as the place was packed and noisy.
Sights on the walk back to the dock included the USS Juneau Memorial, Coal Miners Memorial and a statue of Patsy Ann, the bull terrier who greeted ships in the 30's and 40's.
Back on the ship, we showered and went to the evening show. We were late, but we didn't seem to have missed much - it was the ship's dancers and singers again, doing 70's revue, "Boogie Wonderland". It was purely so-so with lots of loud music, psychedelic colors and BAD wigs. The theme for the evening was "Smart Casual/50's-60's". Basically I wore the same thing that I did on Country Western Night, blue jeans and denim shirt.
Dinner was just so-so. I didn't like the choices given, so I had Pasta Primavera. The dessert was baked Alaska which was very good although it was served without fanfare, i.e. no flaming.
To the casino after dinner where I lost $50 in a few minutes on slots and video poker and Greg lost his $100 winnings from the night before on blackjack. I left the casino and spent a pleasant 45 minutes in the Schooner Bar with our tablemates Daphne and Walter and Linda and Caroline and Kim. (Kim's husband, Humberto, was sitting at the blackjack table with Greg in the casino.) Then we went to the 8th deck where I finally saw our "wealthy" tablemates' higher-class Junior Suite cabins. They were slightly bigger than ours on the 7th deck with bathtubs, but that's about it; it's not worth the extra $500 per person to me!
I also hit the ship's stores. Obviously the ship went shopping in Juneau. There were tons of nesting dolls for sale, and on the '50 percent off' table was a pile of soldier caps studded with Russian patches and pins. They were only $10 with the half-price offer, so I grabbed one for Greg. He loved it.
DAY 6, WEDNESDAY JULY 14, 2004 - Icy Strait
Today we slept in until 10:30 a.m. Unfortunately, I woke up with a runny nose and itchy throat. I had managed to catch a cold, which would plague me the rest of the trip. We breakfasted at the Windjammer, catching the tail end of "Late Riser Breakfast" which ended at 11:15 a.m. Luckily Greg snagged me the last omelet available. I had lagged behind due to a clogged stateroom toilet. (It turned out that the entire floor had trouble; someone put something into the toilet that should not have been placed there.)
I did not have the foresight to bring cold medication along, only Excedrin and sinus tablets. Although the shops were closed (we were at sea), the medical clinic was open and I high-tailed it there to buy cold meds ($9.00). Unfortunately it was not the non-drowsy type and I felt a little woozy after taking it, but it helped. (Note to self: NEXT cruise bring non-drowsy cold meds with us.)
We did not sign up ahead of time for excursions in Icy Strait as none seemed appealing. We had planned to take the tender into town, but I felt so lousy that we decided to skip it. By 3 p.m. I was still in my jammie pants. Actually, it felt nice to "veg" after all the frenetic non-stop activity of the past three days. (I end up wishing for "sea days" in-between port days because you finally get to relax.)
We went to the Internet Café because we each had ten free minutes with our Crown & Anchor coupon book for repeat cruisers. The Internet connection was VERY slow. I managed to write a short letter to my family, running overtime by nine minutes due to the sluggish connection. We went to the Purser to turn in our coupons as required, and the clerk was very kind and gave us full credit after we mentioned how slow the connection was. She even let us keep our coupons, although we never did use them again. One thing about the Pursers -- they were much nicer and friendlier than Carnival's had been on the Elation last year. I found those pursers positively surly. RCL's are terrific.
At 4 p.m. we went to the Windjammer for some sandwiches and dessert (weight gain, here I come) and then did the 1-mile walk. With Greg's ship shape buck, I was up to seven, one shy of the T-shirt. At the tail end of our walk, Captain George's voice came on the Intercom: whales had been spotted and he planned to stop the ship at about 6:30 p.m. for us to observe them. True to his word, the whales were there, just about 6:30! (How did he know?) I was just getting out of the shower, in preparation for the second formal night. I hurriedly dressed and joined Greg on the balcony where he was scanning with binoculars. We saw a pod of whales very close to the ship. Once I actually saw a whale's face. Generally they showed backs and dorsal fins. The whale show was so good that several people later commented that they wished they hadn't paid for whale-watching excursions: this was better, and free!
Whale watching made us late for the show: Hal Frazier, a singer. He delivered some funny jokes about eating: "You're here to eat.eat and get fat.you paid for it..don't leave anything on the ship.don't leave anything for the next passengers..let them get their own!" (Okay, maybe you had to be there!)
Final formal dinner. Afterwards some LOSING gambling in the casino, and then I pushed and shoved my way into the Midnight Buffet to photograph it. There were spectacular sculptures of ice, butter, cheese, chocolate, etc. I had no interest in actually EATING at the buffet because I was STUFFED from dinner, but I was glad that I got to see it. Finally, to the Schooner Bar to meet up with our tablemates - at the end, all 8 of us were there - and then to bed.
Tomorrow, the much awaited and anticipated Hubbard Glacier!
DAY 7, THURSDAY JULY 15, 2004 - Hubbard Glacier
The cruise itinerary advertised "Hubbard Glacier, 7-11 a.m." Accordingly, we rose at 7 a.m. and rushed to our balcony, where we realized we were on the wrong side of the ship. So we got dressed and went on deck to join scores of other passengers gazing at the beautiful sight of the craggy, famous glacier. It was shorter and much wider than I expected.
We were not very close up, so binoculars were helpful. We were able to faintly hear in the distance the sound of ice breaking off and crashing into the sea (not enormous chunks as we would later see on the IMAX film 'The Alaska Experience' in Anchorage, but smallish chunks).
A Holland-American ship, the Ryndam, was also at the glacier, much closer than we were. We hovered for a short while, circling the area. Around 8:15 a.m. I suggested that we get some breakfast. So we proceeded to the Aquarius dining room. The side that they were seating was away from the glacier, but that changed midway through breakfast when the ship turned.
We left the dining room an hour later, and were dismayed to see that the ship was rapidly LEAVING the Hubbard Glacier behind. Meanwhile, the Ryndam was right UP to it. We went to our cabin, where I called the Purser's desk to inquire why we were leaving so soon when the itinerary stated that we would be there until 11 a.m.
"Oh, the Captain is just re-positioning the ship - we're not leaving yet," I was told.
NOT TRUE! We were indeed leaving. I watched from our balcony as the Glacier disappeared from view. How I envied the Ryndam's passengers who got to stay. We regretted having gone to breakfast, because we lost out on seeing much of the Glacier.
The extremely brief viewing of the Glacier was a letdown, as the sight was the most breathtaking of the entire cruise. We wrote about this concern on our guest comment card at the end of the cruise.
The rest of the day was laid back. We both did the Mile Walk, me once again pocketing Greg's ship shape dollar, and again did the Spinning class.
The show that evening was Ralph Achilles, a comedian. I remember that he was funny, but not having taken notes at the time, I can't remember anything about it a month and half later as I write this!
Our last dinnertime came. I was sad, knowing that I would probably never again see the tablemates whom we so enjoyed. We celebrated Kim and Humberto's 4th anniversary. Linda and Caroline had managed to buy a card somewhere in port and even had a gift-wrapped gift - the wrapping was either napkins or toilet paper, and duct tape (Linda told us that she always travels with "flat pack" duct tape). Inside was one of those really cool Alaska photo albums with the tooled map on the cover. (I later bought an identical one in Seward.)
For our part, we teamed up with Daphne and Walter and bought a bottle of champagne for the table in honor of the anniversary couple. It was pricey ($28) but very good. I had beef tenderloin, which was pretty good, not exceptional. Then came the passing out of tip envelopes. Sheryl and Richard had really earned theirs and I felt good about giving it to them.
After dinner, the UN-fun task of PACKING. We had been granted a reprieve time-wise; it turned out that the ship had bent a propeller blade that day and according to Captain George's announcement, we were proceeding on one propeller only, slowing us down. (The blade may have bent at the Hubbard Glacier.) Thus we would arrive in Seward the next day at around 10 a.m. rather than 5 a.m. The reprieve came in two forms: a longer time to put out our luggage (midnight rather than 10:45 p.m.) and the ability to sleep in later (breakfast was extended to 9 a.m. in the dining room).
The downside was missed flights for those who had 3 p.m. or earlier flights from the Anchorage Airport. They were to be re-booked and possibly put up at Anchorage hotels for the night.
DAY 8, FRIDAY JULY 16, 2004 - Disembarkment and Cruise Tour to Alyeska
Awoke at 8 a.m. Went to breakfast, our last meal aboard the Vision of the Seas. Then we cleared out of our cabin by the 9 a.m. requested deadline. Then we began a long, boring waiting game that dragged on to 1 p.m.
On Thursday, the ship's TV channel broadcast locations for various color tags to wait for their turn at disembarkment. Nobody paid the slightest attention to those assignments. Our location was to be the Some Enchanted Evening lounge on Deck 6. When we arrived, there was no one there. We hung around in the adjacent Schooner Bar until the smoke got to me and then left, looking for a place to perch.
I had noticed one other "Yellow 8" couple at the sofa area near the Purser on Deck 5, but there was nowhere to sit. So we sat a bit further back on Deck 5, and then wandered to the Masquerade Theater where the PA system was urging people to go. "Family Films" was listed in the Cruise Compass, which turned out to be a continuous loop of old "Mayberry RFD" and "Lucy Show" episodes. By the third loop, we couldn't stand the repetition and got up and left.
To while away the ENDLESS time, we played Scrabble on our portable game and called our son in Illinois. (Far from being homesick, he seemed irritated to be bothered by us!) FINALLY, after an eternity, our color was called. We had waited four hours. (There was no place to get anything to eat or drink, other than water. How cruel to do to passengers used to eating non-stop, ha.)
Once off the ship, we found our Cruise Tour bus and began Day 1 of the 2-day Cruise Tour provided by "Royal Celebrity Tours" (the tour serves passengers of both Celebrity and RCL lines, which are owned by the same company; ergo the name). Our guide was a bubbly young lady named Casey who confessed that we were her very first group on this tour, although she had led tours at Denali and Glacier Park. What she lacked in experience, she made up in enthusiasm. Wade, our driver, had done this tour several times. His serene, self-assured manner was quite reassuring.
First stop: Alaska Sea Life Center in Seward. It was interesting, albeit small. It doesn't hold a candle to the Long Beach (Ca.) Aquarium, but then again it's not supposed to; it's a rescue organization for injured and/or orphaned sea critters.
After touring the museum, we had free time in Seward to shop and get some lunch. Seward has ONE shopping street, full off gift shops with the usual fare that we'd seen at Ketchikan, Juneau and Skagway: pooping moose/eagles/bears, T-shirts, fleece vests, etc. When we asked one shopkeeper for cold medicine, he motioned to an aisle containing one-dose packets of Day Quil. He told us to go across the street for a bigger box. When I mentioned this to the clerk at the competing store, she said, "We all cooperate with each other." I guess they have to, in such a small town.
Lunch was a hurried affair because we had little time left. I had a BLT and Greg had halibut to go at a little restaurant, rather pricey at $17. We ate on the bus.
We headed to Alyeska. The scenery was gorgeous and Casey narrated. We made a "bonus" stop (not on the itinerary handed out) at a wildlife refuge center (lots of refuge centers in Alaska!). I got to pet a moose. Our final destination was the Alyeska Prince Hotel in Girdwood, which was just "all right" - there was no air conditioning, so we sweltered, and a huge wall covering half the window blocked our view.
We spent the late afternoon hiking Mount Alyeska and ate at the Seven Glaciers restaurant, something Greg had wanted to do. It was a miracle that we got in - someone had canceled a reservation. It was expensive but worth it.
DAY 9, SATURDAY JULY 17, 2004 - Anchorage
We departed the Alyeska Prince at 10 a.m., bound for Anchorage. It's really true that this route has the most beautiful scenery in the world. I envy commuters on the route from Girdwood to Anchorage - what breathtaking beauty they get to see every single day!
The Anchorage Marriott was our accommodation in Anchorage, and it beat the Alyeska Prince by a country mile. For one thing, we got a 12th story room with a gorgeous view of the water and Mt McKinley in the distance (which we couldn't see due to cloud cover, but we could see other mountains). Plus we got an upgraded room with a super comfy fluffy mattress. When I mentioned all this to the desk clerk, she told me, "Celebrity [meaning Royal Celebrity Tours] pays more for their passengers so they get the nice views and premium rooms. Holland-American pays less, so they get the lower floors."
Ha! That ALMOST compensated for Holland-American getting so close to the Hubbard when we were far away and left so blankety-blank early.
The only drawback was receiving two full-size beds rather than a King, but we weren't about to complain and get sent to a lower floor with a non-premium room. So we had to sleep separately for one night.
We had two activities in Anchorage: the Saturday market and the Alaska Heritage Center. The Saturday Market is a huge flea market, selling the usual swap meet fare along with unique things such as antler carvings (we bought a horny toad-bearded dragon set for our son). We also bought some excellent hand-tooled leather belts. A very funny sight at the Market was a longhaired dachshund hooked up to a 'dog sled' carrying a cage full of ferrets.
The Alaska Heritage Center was very interesting. First we watched a native dance where a 2-year-old boy stole the show. Then our native guide, a very self-assured young woman of 19, took us from station to station and explained the lifestyles of the various native groups in Alaska. We learned that 'Eskimo' was an insult (it means meat-eater) and nobody identified himself or herself as such. Unfortunately the time allotted to the Heritage Center, an hour and 45 minutes, was inadequate for us to see all the stations and listen to all the oral history.
We had free time in the afternoon and evening. I had Alaskan salmon for the first time (it was superb) and saw an IMAX film on Alaska and the earthquake that devastated the area in the 1960's. Then we returned to our premium room for our final night in Alaska. The next day Royal Celebrity shuttled us to the airport (they are on time and very efficient at handling luggage) and we flew home.
OVERALL IMPRESSIONS OF THIS CRUISE AND CRUISE TOUR:
THE SHIP: It was smallish compared to the Carnival ships and even the Majesty of the Seas (which had a full-size movie theater). However, this was a distinct advantage: it was easier to navigate one's way around. I often got lost on those Carnival behemoths. The Vision thoughtfully has a model of the ship in the center of each floor showing where everything is located; I used that map often. The ship rarely felt crowded. Traffic is kept flowing very well. On Carnival, we often found ourselves in big crowds (for the dining room, to disembark.. there were always horrid lines on the stairwells leading to the gangway). I think this may be due to the cabin sizes: Carnival makes much of their bigger cabins, BUT they make up for it by downsizing the public areas. Thus one is squashed in the public areas which one spends much more time in, than one's cabin.
The Vision has a rock-climbing wall. I passed it many times while doing the Mile Walk and it seemed well attended mostly by young people. I never partook of it.
As for young people, there weren't that many, and the ones who were behaved themselves. RCL seems to cater more to older folks (I guess we're in that category, pushing 50, LOL) and the Alaska itinerary may be less enticing for kids. On Carnival, particularly to the Mexican Riviera, we were constantly tripping over kids. Some bored pre-teens amused themselves by pushing all the buttons of the elevators and going up and down, up and down. That didn't happen on the Vision.
Since we did not bring our kids on this cruise, we sure didn't want to be annoyed by other people's kids. And we weren't.
THE FOOD: Overall it was good. Some dishes were excellent and others were just so-so. RCL most DEFINITELY needs a wider selection of snacks between meals, not just pizza-hot dogs-hamburgers. Fresh fruit, yogurt, and ice cream would be marvelous. Several passengers complained about the lack of ice cream (the soft serve stuff) except at very limited times. Also, I wasn't able to get hot chocolate at the Windjammer in the afternoon except one time, because a worker sneaked it to me. Some people don't like coffee or tea all the time.
SERVICE: Our wait staff at dinner was top notch. I have no complaints at all. They knew our names after the first night. They were efficient and pleasant. Sheryl was SO much better than the cranky waiter we had on our last cruise (Carnival Elation), who acted like it was an imposition to be asked for anything. Richard, our assistant waiter, was ALWAYS in a good mood. RCL gives their waiters fewer tables to work than Carnival, which definitely makes a difference in the quality of service one receives. The staff at other meals, particularly breakfast, wasn't as good - perhaps because they're not working for big tips at the end of the cruise like the dinner staff.
Our cabin was kept very clean and serviced, and our pair of stewards was creative in piling pillows in geometric shapes on the bed. We left our ceiling towel monkey up for two nights (although it did rather resemble a plucked chicken!)
OTHER: I enjoyed this cruise immensely. I would definitely cruise with RCL again, although I would go with Carnival again as well. Carnival had better entertainment. The food was equally good on both ships. The ambience is better at RCL, with fewer kids and easier moving around the ship. For kids, Carnival is probably the better choice due to more variety of entertainment and the teen lounges. For kid less adults, I'd recommend RCL.
WHAT TO BRING: Clothes pins to hold down the shower curtain and hang up your drip-drys. An alarm clock is a MUST. There is no clock in the cabin. There's a wake-up call system but we didn't bother with it since we had clocks. A hair dryer was provided so we didn't have to bring one (not even nailed down, believe it or not; I wonder if they have trouble with theft). A safe is provided which is also nice. Bring cash for tips; we opted-out of the automatic tipping. Bring stamps for your postcards. Be sure to bring binoculars.
My email for questions or comments: firstname.lastname@example.org
We got to the San Pedro pier around 12:30pm and were into our rooms before 1:30. There was a buffet lunch waiting for us and after we ate we explored the ship. After the mandatory muster drill at 4:30pm, the ship left the dock around 6pm.
Sunday, the first night was casual dress. We met our waiter and assistant waiter who were both very friendly and professional for the duration of the trip. One tip - the friendlier you are to the waiters, the more fun you will have. Ask them anything including what they think about the ship and the ports of call. They do have helpful tips to pass on if you ask.
Monday, the first day at sea. The daytime was laid back. The weather was nice and we spent the day around the pool. Monday evening was the first formal night. Before dinner, the captain had a welcome aboard party where all of the officers and management were introduced. Captain Gary was very friendly and pleasure to meet. He regularly made rounds throughout the ship and asked everyone how they were doing. He always made himself availablefor pictures and Q&A. He was one of the highlights.
Tuesday - Cabo San Lucas. As we pulled into Cabo and dropped anchor, the view was stunning. Since they tender you into town from the ship, the tender process can be time consuming. They hand out tickets with numbers on them and you have to wait until your number is called before you can go down to deck one and get on the tender boat. If you want to catch one of the first tenders, get to the deck four Centrum early and get your ticket. We did not and didn't get into town until 1:30pm. We only had a few hours to check out the town before we had to get back to the ship. When you first get off of the tenders and walk up the dock into town, you are swarmed by people pushing boat rides and other merchandise. I found that the water taxis were the best way to go. They can get you anywhere in town in a few minutes for about $3 US per person. They will also take you out to the arch and to lover's beach for the same price. We saved a lot of money by not purchasing the shore excursions from the ship. The water taxis take you to the same attractions for a lot less money. The only problem we found about the water taxis was that if they take you to the main beach, the water can be rough and it is hard to get on or off these small boats. My wife had a difficult time getting onto one from the main beach, but they are so convenient for getting around town. Don't pay more than $3 US per person; they will all accept that price. At night there was a casual dinner and a show.
Wednesday - Mazatlan. The ship docks in Mazatlan, so there is no wait to get to shore. When you step off the ship, they shuttle you to the street where there is a small flea market. They don't want people walking around the pier here. When we got there, the first person to approach us was a pretty girl pushing a timeshare sales pitch. If you want to sit through this 1.5 hour presentation, they will pay for any shore excursion you want to go on. The only problem was that our time is so limited since we have to be back to the ship by 5pm. Since we had no clue as to what to do here, we thought we would check it out. They took us in a van for about 20 minutes to the most beautiful resort I have ever seen. I can't remember the name of it right now. When we drove through town, it was pretty dirty. I was thinking that maybe we did make the right choice to do the timeshare thing. They showed us around the resort and took us to one of their private restaurants. This is where they brought in the 'hard sell' closer. We stood our ground and told him we did not want to purchase. He got frustrated and left. They said we could spent the rest of the day there. There was a full open bar, all the best food from a great private restaurant, and a private cabana on the beach. We never saw Mazatlan, but had a great time there. If you stand firm, some of these timeshare free gifts are pretty good. Don't make the mistake of purchasing a timeshare while on vacation. There are so many hidden fees they do not tell you about, that it is better to get hotel rooms. You don't have to deal with any long terms obligations that way as well. Also you can find and purchase the same timeshare locations on the Internet for less than half the price they quote you on site. At the end of the day they also paid for our taxi to get back to the ship on time. It was a good day. In the evening it was another casual night. We had a great dinner, saw a show, and went dancing afterwards.
Thursday - Puerto Vallarta. When we woke up, the ship was already docked at the pier. This is a beautiful town. When you step off the ship, there are taxis waiting to take you into town. We walked around the Malecon shops and beaches and took pictures. Be very careful when walking around this town. They drive crazy. It can be very dangerous if you are not paying attention. Around 5pm we returned to the ship. The taxis here are the best way to get around town. They will take you to town for $3 US per person. The yellow taxis are cheaper than the white taxis. The white taxis are more comfortable. The yellow taxis are small Nissans. The white taxis are air conditioned mini-vans and SUV's. They run about $6 US per person to take you to town. Again, in the evening it was another casual night. We had a great dinner, saw a show, and went dancing afterwards. The ship left the dock at 11pm. There was a midnight sail away party and buffet on the pool deck as we left Puerto Vallarta.
Friday and Saturday are sea days. That is a very good schedule. After seeing three towns in three days, we really needed a rest. Two days at sea is very peaceful. They had a lot of on board activities to keep everyone occupied. There are pool games, dancing lessons, bingo, and many other activities throughout the day. The captain even had a few informal Q&A sessions and very cheerfully explained all of the workings of the ship. Friday night was the second formal night. It was also the night of the midnight buffet. The display of food was incredible. They turn food into art. Be sure to take pictures of this one. We were winding down by Saturday and did not do much. We spent the day relaxing and looking at the ocean from one of the quiet lounges. Since we were approaching LA, it was starting to get a little cooler outside. It was a casual night; we had dinner and saw the farewell show. And packed.
Sunday debarkation was easy. There was a line getting through customs, but that is unavoidable. As we exited customs and went to get our taxi to LAX, we saw the captain again one last time on the way out. He was cheerfully and individually bidding everyone farewell and goodbye. I have been on three cruises so far and have never seen the captain as much as this guy. He is truly a nice person.
Miscellaneous - The entertainment was very good. They had the singers and dancers, comedians, and a magician. The lounge acts throughout the ship were very good. I'm not very picky about food and I loved everything the main dining room had to offer. It was all so tasty. Alcoholic beverages are 5 dollars each at the bar. That kind of adds up after a week. Fortunately they have a duty free gift shop on board that sells all kinds of wine and liquor. If you want to take liquor back to your cabin during the cruise, you are charged $9.50 premium. That is not bad since I bought a 5th of Smirnoff for about $7.50 and paid the $9.50 so the total was $17.00. This is about the same price as Safeway.
We sailed on December 28, leaving from Los Angeles for a seven-day Mexican Riviera cruise on Vision of the Seas. Our group included two families, for a total of four adults and six children ranging in age from 2 to 11. We had cabins 8568, 8569 and 8570. The two balcony cabins were adjoining, and the interior cabin across the hall was for the three older boys. Technically, we could have squeezed our two families of five into two balcony cabins, but having the interior stateroom really helped and gave everybody breathing room.
Embarkation took less than an hour, and our luggage arrived promptly. Our cabin steward, Daniel, was flexible and helpful as we settled into our cabins with excited children and lots of bags. We requested robes and they were delivered to our room. My daughter's birthday happened during the cruise, and we ordered the birthday decorations from the ship's purser. Although they were expensive ($29), it was worth it. She loved having them, and it made the day much more festive.
We signed up for main seating at 6:00 p.m. and were assigned to table 196. Six is very early toeat, but as I mention below, I prefer this fixed seating system to Personal Choice, which is offered on Princess. Service was sometimes a little too fast; we learned to delay ordering a bit in order to have time to relax between courses. Otherwise, meals and service were delightful. Our serving team of Ajay, Sebastian and Marcia was great. The Windjammer buffet and Solarium snack bar were always available, but I thought the food was better in the dining room. We didn't catch all of the midnight buffets, but Gala Buffet was worth staying up for - just beautiful!
Because it was a holiday sailing, our cruise was full of children. This was great for us because our kids felt right at home, but I don't know how a couple traveling on their own would have felt. Although the solarium pool was supposed to be off-limits to kids, there were children (not ours) in the pool on several different days.
Our kids signed up for Adventure Ocean, and went to several sessions. Our six-year-old liked it the best. Our oldest child, who is 11, was the only one who was completely uninterested in the program - too old for the 9-11 group, and too young for the 12-15. The 8-, 9- and 11-year-old boys loved having the freedom to explore the ship, and spent lots of time on their own. The children's program was most useful on formal nights, when it was nice for both parents and kids to eat separately.
A major weakness was the babysitting service. We had a two-year-old with us, who was too young to use Adventure Ocean. We filled out a sitter request for two nights and two mornings at the Purser's office, but they were clearly overwhelmed by the volume of requests. They couldn't tell us which days we had sitters, and on two days a sitter showed up when we had received no confirmation! They need a simplified system for matching people up with sitters; it felt very disorganized. Also, we had hoped that the sitter could take our toddler to Adventure Ocean to play in the playroom, but we discovered that this was not allowed because of "germs." I'd like to see them re-visit this policy, or perhaps create a small parent-toddler playroom in a separate space. There aren't many places on a ship where toddlers can play freely.
A small quibble with cruises in general is that soft drinks and special coffees are not included. It's a pain to have to sign for a Diet Coke or a latte - both items that many people are used to having each day. I'd rather they charge a few more dollars for the cruise ticket, and let these things be included in the price.
Generally, service on the ship was attentive and friendly. We had a few delays at the buffet when we requested soy milk or chocolate milk. Also, we sometimes didn't get water when we asked for it from waiters circulating at the pool or theater. But, as I said, our dining room waiters, cabin attendants and children's counselors were all great. Room service was also very prompt.
The weather in Mexico was beautiful, and the ports were fun. In Cabo, we took a taxi to Chileno Bay, and enjoyed the clear water, sandy beach and great snorkeling. (There is no restroom or food at this beach.) We asked the taxi to pick us up at a certain time, and then we had lunch in Cabo before re-boarding.
In Mazatlan, we took the shore excursion called "Colonial Villages and Papantla Flyers." I really enjoyed seeing the small villages, but the Flyers were not much more than a way to sell trinkets. I don't particularly like the "Golden Zone" area of Mazatlan, so we chose to eat a late lunch back on the ship.
In Puerto Vallarta, we hired a taxi for the whole day, and went to Playa Mismaloya for a nice morning on this very pleasant beach. Although there was a restaurant at the beach, we decided to try El Nogalito - a jungle restaurant nearby. It was a beautiful setting and the kids loved exploring the trails, but they were having a staffing problem (because it was New Year's Day) and we didn't end up eating after all because of slow service.
We spent New Year's Eve on the ship and RCCL did a nice job making it festive. Everyone got hats and noisemakers. Balloons were dropped in the Centrum and they set up a "ball drop" on the pool deck, with free champagne, a barbecue buffet and a full countdown to midnight. It was a very memorable way to start the New Year!
On the ship, we read, swam, exercised, played bingo and did a few family activities such as the scavenger hunt. We enjoyed several shows – everyone loved Beatlemania - and had some luck at the slot machines in the casino. The guys visited the cigar bar a few times. We weren't able to use the spa, since all the appointments were taken, so make sure to sign up on embarkation day if you want a spa service!
On the return trip, the weather was colder and the seas a bit rougher. Although many people swam in the pool and sunbathed, make sure to bring a sweatshirt or light jacket for these last few days. I'd also suggest bringing a travel alarm clock since no clock is provided in the room.
If you're traveling with children, bring a shoelace or lanyard and have them wear their SeaPass around their neck so it doesn't get lost. Ask the purser's desk to punch a hole in the SeaPass for you. The lanyards they sell in the shop are the kinds that connect to a plastic holder, and both of ours broke before the week was out. A simple lanyard run through a hole is much sturdier.
Since we live on the west coast, this itinerary is really convenient. We've done it twice now, and we'll probably try another destination next time. Although we still love more traditional beach vacations (Hawaii is our favorite), I thought the cruise was a good value, and fun for everyone in our family.
COMPARING VISION TO STAR PRINCESS:
We cruised the same itinerary last January on Star Princess (see my review from 1/25/2003) and were curious to compare our experiences. We had a great time on both cruises, so I wouldn't say there was a clear winner. It depends on what's important to you. Areas of difference included:
Meals: Both the food and service in the dining room were far better on RCCL than on Princess. Having the same table and seating each night created a better relationship with our waiters. Most meals were very good on RCCL as opposed to just fair on Princess. And the midnight buffets were a lot of fun on the Vision - they're not offered on the Star Princess. After-dinner cappuccinos were included on Princess, but only available for an extra charge on RCCL.
Dress: Although both ships have two formal nights, the non-formal nights were much more casual on the Vision than on the Star. Princess was more of a smart-casual look, whereas the Vision was truly casual even in the dining rooms.
Stateroom: Veranda staterooms were similar size on both ships, but overall, the Star was newer and nicer. Our Vision balcony stateroom was a bit drab and the windows were very dirty. There was a little mildew in the bathroom. The closet in the Princess stateroom was much better organized and there was more storage space. On the other hand, the RCCL veranda was private, whereas on Princess those above could view our veranda. Also, we had a nice, deep tub on the Vision, and only a shower on Star Princess.
Ship overall: Again, Star Princess is a newer ship and therefore has some nice touches that the Vision didn't. The aft pool on the Star is a nice, quiet spot and isn't offered on the Vision. Also, there's a nice wraparound Promenade deck on Star that we really enjoyed. The Vision's lower decks don't wrap around. Both ships have a nice walking/jogging deck. Both have a nice enclosed lounge on an upper deck for great views during the day. I preferred the interior lounges and dining room décor on the Star Princess - they felt cozier and more upscale than did the Vision's. Both solariums and outdoor pools were nice. Both ships have nice buffet areas. The Vision's atrium (called Centrum) was more dramatic and prettier than the one on Star Princess. Although we didn't use the children's program on the Star, the physical space for the program was nicer than that of the Vision.
Fitness Center: The Star had a much nicer and larger fitness center, with more equipment. RCCL offered rock climbing; Princess offered a golf simulator.
Entertainment: Much better on RCCL! We saw Beatlemania and two good comedians on RCCL. The internally-produced dance shows were similar on both ships. Princess offers evening movies and RCCL does not. I did not like the constant art auctions on Princess; RCCL has a much more subdued and reasonable art auction schedule. RCCL offers more activities like "belly flop contest," "newlywed game" etc. but both ships had plenty to do every day if you're looking for activities, as well as spots to get away from the action if (like me) you just want to curl up with a book.
Website: The Princess website worked better and was more informative than RCCL's. The RCCL site crashed repeatedly when I tried to book shore excursions.
Itinerary: Princess starts with two days at sea and then arrives first at Puerto Vallarta, ending with Cabo. RCCL does the opposite, starting with one day at sea, then Cabo. I preferred RCCL itinerary. It was nice to have two quiet days at the end of the cruise.
Overall, I'd say if food is the most important to you, go with RCCL. If the ship is more important, go with Princess. Otherwise, choose by price and availability. Both ships are a lot of fun.
We are from San Diego area so we took limo to port in San Pedro. There were 5 of us, Husband, Daughter (15 yr old), Niece, Nephew (both 30's) and myself.
Embarkation: Arrived in San Pedro around 1:00 pm (should have been there earlier but limo broke down on the way up) and lines were relatively short. Went thru security and I had a bottle of wine in my carry on. Agent said to check it at the table outside security but never followed up so I just kept going. Took the usual photo and boarded the ship within 1/2 hour. Elevators were slow so we decided to hike up to our Cat. C cabin on deck 8. Needless to say we were a little winded after all those stairs and carrying luggage. We weren't in the cabin 10 minutes before the phone rang for my daughter, who had met another teenage girl on line that was on the ship and the same deck, needless to say we didn't see much of her the rest of the cruise.
Went to the Windjammer for something to eat. Food ok but not great.As we were eating there was a gentleman sitting alone next to us. DH has the gift of gab and struck up a conversation with him. Turns out he was one the Drifters (who would be performing on the ship) and we had a wonderful conversation with him. We went to the show on Tuesday evening and he even waved to us and came over after the performance. They were very good.
Cabins: Cat C balcony cabins - nice size with plenty of storage. We met our cabin attendant right away. Daniel, from Nicaragua, was superb!! My DH asked for robes and extra pillows and we had them within minutes. The rest of the week he took care of our every need. The pre-tip made a difference I'm sure. He even checked out an extension cord for us so we could put up our holiday decorations.
First Night: Being totally exhausted we opted for the Windjammer that night for dinner. food was ok but nothing special. Walked around the ship to check out the decorations. Very well done with garland, many different Christmas trees and Gingerbread village set up in the Centrium. Off to cabin for a little R&R and glass of wine then shut eye.
Day 1 at Sea: Woke up to room service right on time. Strange though having beans with my eggs. Food not too great but edible. Again off to check out the ship and visit our first of many "watering holes". The weather was pleasant and the seas were calm. This was also the first formal night. We had second seating so it gave us some time to relax and get ready.
Went to the Welcome Aboard reception (very crowded) and we had to sit in the Schooner Bar. Very nice as they had waiters with drinks and munchies every where.
Finally ready for dinner. Found our table (148) dead center in the middle of the dining room next tot the captains table. He was not there that night but we would see him later in the week. We met our waiter, Hristo, from Bulgaria and his assistant Bruno from India. Hristo seemed a little too stuffy for me but Bruno did an excellent job!! Again, pre-tipping seemed to make the difference for us. We had a table for just us 5 which was nice due to the Holidays.
Day 2 - Cabo San Lucas DH and I decided to stay on the ship and visit the spa for a deep cleansing facial (awesome!!) while DD, Niece and Nephew were off to Cabo. They had lunch (not sure where) and then went on a glass bottom boat. They said it was great and my niece has one of those fancy digital cameras so we were able to see photos plus mini movie of this. I think they had a great time. Weather was very nice as we left Cabo and continued to be beautiful for all the ports.
Dinner this evening was casual. Hristo suggested the duck this night and I thought it was quite good. After dinner we visited the Schooner Bar (soon to be our favorite place) while DD was off with her new friends.
Day 3 - Mazatlan This is one of our favorite ports for fun. The open air cabs are a blast but since there was 5 of us we had to opt for a regular Explorer to go into town. Went to Golden Zone for some shopping and then lunch at the Shrimp Factory (GREAT shrimp!!!). From there it was off to Senor Frogs. What a crazy place. Had a few shots and danced for a while. The place was really hopping. Another cab back to the ship. That was interesting whith 5 of us in a Dodge Neon (plus the driver). We had to sit sideways in order to all fit.
Left Mazatlan about 5:30 pm - beautiful sunset. Tonights dinner again was casual (Christmas Eve) and I can't remember what was for dinner (too many shots???). Tonight also the "Dancing under the Stars" on the pool deck with huge buffet and lots of people. It was fun.
Day 4 - Puerto Vallarta Woke up to a lot of whooping and hollering. Seems the party boats at the pier were getting ready to leave. We hopped into a taxi for our own tour of the city (thanks to Xavier). He took us all around the city starting with the Marina area (beautiful homes and the Iguana tree) and from there we headed to Mismalayo (sp?) beach. Very beautiful place and the homes up on the hills were unbelievable. From the Xavier suggested lunch at El Dorado right on the beach in town. The tables are in a covered area but steps from the sand. The food was very good. Weather was about 85 that day.
Back to the ship but not until after a little shopping at the shops right by the ship.
2nd Formal Night (Christmas Day). We all took a nap prior to dinner this evening. Daniel came around with our "gift". A very nice tote bag on wheels with a matching cosmetic case inside. It was very helpful later on when we need extra room for stuff.
We all went down before dinner for our "portrait". They had caroling and they made it "snow" in the Centrium. Really nice. Dinner this night on special menus with the traditional turkey, beef wellington, etc. Food pretty good.
Day 5 - At Sea The weather started to slide at this point. A little chillier so we decided to visit the Schooner Bar for a "warm up" and visit our favorite bartender, Kenneth from St. Vincent (it was "only my second week...").
Dinner tonight was lobster. Pretty good but small. Although DH took several tails to go.
The waves started picking up this night and the ship began to move alot.
Day 6 - At Sea By morning I turned on the TV to the Bridge report to find out we had 18 ft. swells and gale force winds. My DD told me they had closed down the outside decks the night before due to the weather. When we left the cabin it was tough walking straight and there were vomit bags placed all over the ship but thanks to Bonine we had no problems.
Went to bingo as the jackpot was $12,000. Very interesting game - the guy that won the jackpot the 1st time could not find his receipt for his play card and they could not confirm he had bought it. He received lots of boo's from the rest of the crowd and after much delay they decided to go on with the game until 3 other people claimed the prize. Needless to say this gentleman was not very happy but they do tell you to check your receipt.
Last night on the ship and we had to say our farewells to all who had done such a wonderful job taking care of us all week. Dinner tonight was prime rib (pretty good).
Off to pack and have bags out by 11 pm.
Day 7 - San Pedro Disembarkation was a night mare. We opted to have breakfast so we missed our call for our tags. Went down to area to leave and spend 1 1/2 hours in line to get off the ship. Some people were rather rude and the line wrapped around the room and people got off the elevators and just cut in wherever they could. We finally got off the ship around 10 am.
In summary we had a great time and DD can't wait to go on another cruise. Forgot to mention we did visit the casino a couple time and I did manage to win about $300 on the $.25 slots.
I just came back from a 12 day trip to Hawaii departing from Vancouver. At this point I would never go on Royal Caribbean again. The ship was beautiful but the food was awful. Almost everyone I talked with said the same. There were no other restaurants to choose from. You had dining room or Windjammer Cafe.
I was so disappointed. They also were not helpful with giving information at each island for alternatives ways to get around the island. A lot of the tours were booked or too expensive. We made are own way and would come back to the ship and compare notes with others. Got a lot of useful info from others experiences but too late.
Repositioning - Los Angeles to Vancouver BC
This review will cover many aspects of The Vision and serve as a reference for the Alaskan cruising crowd of spring/summer '04.
There were three of us on this voyage: my wife Pat, yours truly - along with a friend of many years named John, (a first time cruiser.) We booked an inside cabin for John, right across from our stateroom. In this way he could compare an inside to a cabin with veranda.
Sea/Air with RCI was a breeze. Direct United flight from PDX to LAX. Greyhound Land was used by RCI for airport to pier transfer.
This was the smoothest boarding we have ever had. Passengers were arriving throughout the afternoon so there was simply no wait at the pier. We were processed and onboard in fifteen minutes! Please remember: Canada accepts birth certificates in lieu of a passport but it must be a certified copy. John said he had a certificate, which turned out to be a hospital record. We caught this in plenty of time and he was able to obtain a CERTIFIED copy from Ohio. You cannot get on theship without it or a passport.
Ours - Cat D1, deck seven, starboard and aft. 195 sq. ft. with a 41 sq. ft. veranda. Just fine for five days at sea. John's - M class inside appx. 160 sq. ft. Perfect if your friends are across the hall and sharing the balcony!
Around the Ship:
Schooner Bar - The favorite spot for my wife and I. Deck Six - mid ship, starboard. We sat for hours sipping the drink of the day or specially made coffees and watching the ocean go by through floor to ceiling windows.
Ship Shape Fitness Center:
Good assortment of exercise equipment. I work out with cable weights which they had plenty of and managed to tear myself up pretty good. Lacking squat and leg press stations - mainly upper body weights. Plenty of treadmills and steppers.
Similar to the AquaSpa on M Class Celebrity ships with a few differences - it is, perhaps, half the size of AquaSpa and instead of serving healthy, light foods from a cafe, there is a bar forward and a hamburger/hot dog stand aft.
Standard, run of the mill buffet with limited changes of menu from day to day. The offerings were satisfactory.
Ports of Call:
San Francisco: Shopping in Sausalito and touring Alcatraz.
I was determined to awaken early and photograph our passing under The Golden Gate. I did not, however, want to wake my wife. I set that strange and unexplainable inner alarm to rouse me at 5:30am. It worked poorly and I sprang to the balcony every hour on the hour from three o'clock on. The pilot boat finally came alongside. In lieu of a flashlight I used the screen on my cell phone to quietly maneuver and prepare. Finally dressed and with camera in hand, I made my way top deck and forward. I thought I would be there alone but found myself with over one hundred others who were there for the same experience. Here came The Golden Gate.... closer and closer... so many cameras clicking and videos running. As we passed directly under the center span our ship let out with three long horn blasts. Knees buckled as we stood less than fifty feet from that enormous sound.
Acapulco is the gem of Mexico and San Francisco is surely the most beautiful port of the US West. Approaching the city in that early morning light was an aesthetic moment in time. We docked at Fisherman's Wharf.
Our shore excursions took us across The Golden Gate to Sausalito. It was before 10:00am and the shops were not yet open. Our tour guide said we had to leave at 10:10am.... ten minutes... to do what??? I later filed a complaint with the shore excursion desk regarding this limit of time. We were all refunded half the excursion price. The next activity was touring Alcatraz. The boats to the island dock two blocks away from our pier. 'The Rock' was a great tour and though crowded with children on school outings, it was all we hoped for. I compare it to a cattle yard, housing humans who were treated in a most sub standard way. Good to show this sort of thing to children - what can happen if they are 'naughty'.
Victoria, B.C. Touring Craigdarroch Castle and English Tea at The Empress Hotel.
Wonderful city tour on a British style red, double-decker. We had a wonderful and exceptionally talented guide/driver. He was a veritable database mixed with charm, humor and a voice good enough for radio. We visited Craigdarroch Castle which is more of a four-story mansion, a 23,000 sq. ft. museum with copious amounts of woodwork.
Next was a drive to the eastern suburb of Victoria - Oak Bay - established at the turn of the century by wealthy Victoria residents of British descent who wanted to keep their distance from the tidal mud flat that was then the Inner Harbour. The homes were of mansion stature and spoke of true opulence.
Next stop was The Empress Hotel in beautiful downtown Victoria. I wish we could have toured more of the grounds but it was in for tea augmented with finger sandwiches and desserts, and out in 30 minutes. Plenty to do and see in this city - a real joy to visit.
This cruise showed me how patient and polite the Canadian people can be. It became a harrowing disembarkation and the airport needed all the patient and polite souls that it could muster. There were three ships in port to end/start a cruise, The Vision, The Infinity, (coming in from Hawaii,) and the Ryndam. It didn't occur to me that most of the 5,000 of us were going to converge on the airport... all at once. I counted seven check points prior to gate.... the lines were akin to Disneyland with the switchbacks and impatient Americans WANTING to get home.
I think I'll pick Ensenada for my next entry port. Yes, it was that bad... I do not want to see that airport again for many, many years.
Make sure to bring layered clothing - heavy long sleeved shirts, more slacks than shorts, sweaters, windbreakers and umbrellas. Bring one or two extra umbrellas to give out to poor 'little old ladies' who are shivering above deck in the rain. Never anticipate fair weather in this region - Northern Pacific storms can roll in at any time of year. But do bring your swimsuit for the solarium is covered with a retractable 'crystal canopy'.
The crew loved my two-dollar bills. I tell them they are magic and something very good will happen to them on this cruise.
Bring a good pair of binoculars... lots to see in these Alaskan waters.
Anticipate massive crowds at all the ports. No, I've never been to Alaska but I do view web cams and where I can see three ships, it may be as many as 6,000 tourists ! ! ! In most of the ports for most of the summer there will be minimum of three ships at dock or anchor.
Unless one takes extensive notes during a cruise, it is hard to chronologically recall all the events. Photos help but I have found all our voyages are comparable to a culinary dish - a blend of activities, emotions, thoughts and experiences, which culminate in a final presentation - to be savored throughout the years.
Our Vision repositioning, (like all our cruises,) was positive and well worth the investment. The ship shows a bit of wear but was clean. The crew was friendly, well trained and attentive. The dining was good to excellent. The evening shows were professional and pleasing. Everyone sailing to Alaska this year - you can anticipate this with excitement!
I write this on our final full day of the voyage. It has been a short five-day jaunt but I feel prepared to re enter my workplace and mundane day-to-day existence with renewed vigor and a relaxed state of mind. The end of every cruise brings a new beginning to my life - filled with hope and happiness. Thank you Vision and thank you RCI for a job well done.
Comments and questions: email@example.com
We are from San Diego and our group of 21 people that are good friends went on the February 15, 2004 sailing of the RCL Vision of the Seas. We ranged in age from 53 down to 3 years of age. Quite a spectrum of cruisers.
Rather than give the day by day review I thought I would focus on a few issues that I would personally feel come in handy.
Embarkation: This entire process took less than an hour from the time we were dropped off by family until we were on the ship and in our cabin. The longest part of the whole process was waiting in line for the porters to take our luggage. That took about ½ hour. The rest once we were in the cruise terminal took less than 10 minutes to check in and get our sea pass. What a difference in departing from this terminal as opposed to San Diego where my last two cruises were from. Each of those took over an hour to get on the ship.
*Note to self.don't leave on a cruise from San Diego no matter how convenient youthink it may be, it's just not worth the frustration!*
Cabins: We booked an outside cabin for my wife and myself and an inside for our two sons. Both cabins were typical cruise cabins. RCL cabins are smaller than Carnivals and the bathrooms are very small. The storage was ample for 1 weeks cruise but there were no refrigerators in the cabin. Television and movies were good. We both had the same cabin steward. She was very competent and kept our rooms clean. She also was very pleasant to deal with always had a smile and a kind greeting for us! *Note to self, thinking of 14 days, Panama Canal on the sister of the Vision of the Seas, you may want to re-think your cruise plans due to the size of the cabins.*
Ship: Very nice and clean. Decorated in light pastels and wood colors. Not a lot of glitz and I didn't feel like I was in Vegas (like when I was on the Carnival Spirit). I like the toned down appearance of this ship. The ship was full to capacity, but I never felt crowded or like I was being herded as cattle. There was always plenty of space to find a quiet corner to play scrabble or read.
Activities: The social activities on this ship were not as numerous as other cruises I have been on. During the day there seemed to be a lack of things to do. Better way of saying this might be a lack of spectrum of things to do that interested me personally.
Shows and Entertainment: There were great shows especially the retro disco show Boogie Wonderland. I would take another cruise on the Vision just to see that show. It was really fun! The singers and musicians in the bars and at the pools were great too!
Food: This was the biggest disappointment of the week. The food in the dinning room was simply put, bland, plain and not what I am accustomed to on cruise ships. There were no special efforts made at presentation like previous cruises on Carnival and Princess. The steaks were of "cheap cuts" of meat and very tough. Vegetables were the same each day and it seemed that everything was prepared vegetable wise with a tomato base or sauce of some kind. The foods in the buffets were better than average buffet food. Nice selections and good taste.
Service: All service was above average and was in some cases very polished. Our waitress Catalina was superb! She and her assistant were what made the experience in the dinning room worth returning for nightly. Also the head waiter was present at all times and was genuinely interested in our feed back. He realized the food "comes and goes" but the service he and his staff provided was top notch. I will say by the second night our waitress, assistant and head waiter knew our names and greeted us as well as asked us questions by name! Nice touch RCL.
Ports of Call: This was our fourth Mexican Riviera cruise so the Ports were secondary to the group and our socializing. Same Ports same things to buy, lots of fun!
On a scale of 1 to 5 stars 1 being lowest and 5 being the best I would rate this cruise a solid 4 stars. The only thing that would keep it from 5 stars would be the dinning room food. I would sail again on this ship anytime!