This was our third year in a row taking a cruise during Thanksgiving week, with the first two times being on Princess. Although we were happy with Princess and it was the same itinerary on the Mexican Riviera, we wanted to try another cruise line. We were quite looking forward to the trip as we had splurged and reserved a premium balcony suite.
We were pleasantly surprised that we had a special check-in line that allowed us to bypass the hour-long line for regular check-in. Entering the suite, 8th deck, suite 8506, the room was pleasant enough. by cruise standards, the room was large, approximately 350 sq feet with more than enough closet space. The bathroom was a normal, full-size size with a full shower tub. The other first impression upon entering the room was that the view through the floor-to-ceiling sliding glass door was wonderful but the glass was filthy. The balcony was also quite spacious and had a table with two chairs and two padded lounge chairs. Again the glass balcony panels were quite dirty. The first 15 minutes were spent cleaning the windows. The carpeting was a little worn and the bed not particularly comfy but good enough. (As a note, after we got back from the cruise, I took a look at the virtual tour of the cabin again on Expedia and discovered that the layout of the room in the virtual tour was NOT the same as our actual room, which I think is a bit deceptive.)
As we looked at the "Compass" detailing the available activities for the first day of the cruise, we noticed that there did not appear to be any movies showing that night. We had enjoyed this feature on Princess, and assumed that it would be standard on RCL. We soon learned that RCL does not show movies in an auditorium, but were nonetheless pleased to see that our suite was equipped with both a VCR and a DVD player connected to the TV. We then went to the purser's desk to find out where videos and DVD's could be rented. Believe it or not, we were told that there was no such service on board. Instead, the woman at the purser's desk looked genuinely surprised and commented on what a great idea that would be.
Although we had signed up for the early 6pm dinner seating, in order to switch from a table with other people and families to a table for two, we had to check in with the maitre'd. The dining room was quite busy with other people who wanted to rearrange their dinner seatings. Although we were able to get a table for 2, it was only available at the 8:30 seating. Dinner attire for the first evening was casual. On RCL, "casual" attire really is casual. People wore jeans, t-shirts and shorts and basically looked like slobs in a very nice, formal dining room. Our "dinner" table was rather uncomfortable. Because the cruise was fully booked, they had to set out additional tables where tables weren't intended to be set. Our "dinner" table was actually a game table with tablecloth over it. We discovered this right away because the top was not flat, making is difficult to keep glasses from sitting off-kilter and spilling. We managed to work around this problem, once we zeroed in on the spots where glasses should not be placed. The other problem with the table could not be addressed so easily. The table base was large and bulbous and made it impossible for two people to comfortably rest their legs beneath the table. This left us with two choices. The first was to extend our legs out to the side. This was not practicable, however, because our feet were then in the path of the countless servers using the thoroughfare in which our table had been placed. The second choice was to straddle the table base throughout the meal. The result was that we felt bowlegged by the end of dinner, as though we'd just finished a long ride on horseback.
Although the server and assistant server at dinner the first night were nice enough, the dining experience bordered on poor. Our entrée, shrimp ravioli, was simply bad. It tasted fishy to the point of being inedible, and we didn't have more than one bite. The assistant server apologized and asked us if she could make up for it by offering us coffee. So we asked for cappuccinos to go with dessert. Although she had offered, she informed us that cappuccinos came from the bar and thus she would have to charge us for them. After dinner cappuccinos on Princess are complimentary. Both our server and assistant server would both disappear into the galley for 5-10 minutes at a time which would leave everyone in our section looking around for them. by no stretch of the imagination were we the only people in our section who felt this way.
Assuming that our first night dining experience was an isolated incident, we made our way back to the Aquarius Dining Room the next morning for breakfast. The service seemed slow to everyone at our table of eight, but cruising is a leisurely activity anyway, so no one seemed too bothered by it. What did bother me and others at our table was the manner in which the food was served. Several of us ordered cereal, as one might expect at breakfast. What we did not realize at first was that when the server brought the cereal, he simultaneously brought out everyone's hot breakfast (bacon & eggs, eggs Benedict, etc.) and put them on the sideboard while we all ate our cereal. Some 5-10 minutes later, the server cleared the cereal bowls and served us all with our now stone-cold "hot" breakfasts which, conveniently for him, were already right there on the sideboard. As soon as we discovered this, the waiter was nowhere to be seen. We sat there for another five minutes waiting for him to return in the hopes that we might get some hot food. While we were waiting, we took the opportunity to fill out the comment card from the table, requesting in writing that our dinner table be changed to something other than a card table. On the way out of the dining room, we gave our written request about the dinner table to the head waiter. He told us in an off-hand way that the cruise was fully booked and they did not have enough dining tables but that he would see what they could do. We didn't have dinner in the dining room at our assigned table for several days again but nonetheless, they didn't do anything about the table nor did they even acknowledge that we had filled out a comment card. A guest at the same table told us that this was her 21st cruise on RCL and even she couldn't get a 6:00 dinner-seating assignment. I thought that said a lot about how RCL doesn't seem to care much about customer loyalty.
To save the annoyance of having to eat at 8:30 every night at an uncomfortable table and putting up with slow, inattentive service, we ended up eating at the buffet and ordering room service for the rest of the week for all but one night. Service in the dinner buffet was equally spotty. The beverage station was in an off-limits area but the servers seemed too busy to offer drinks because they were clearing tables. Food was fresh and hot if you arrived during the first hour of dinner service. After that, the food was dry and lukewarm, although it was served from a steam table. They had two carving and fresh prep stations but these were often unmanned and you'd have to catch someone's attention to be served there. Only a very small area of the Windjammer Café, where the dinner buffet was set up, was opened for dinner service. Although the entire café was large, the small area that was opened made it difficult to find a clean available table.
On the sixth night of the cruise, we decided to give the dining room another try. On the way to dinner, we stopped by one of the lounges (the Showboat Lounge) for a pre-dinner coffee at 8:00, which gave us half an hour. We ordered a cappuccino and Irish coffee, both of which were featured on the drink menu sitting on the table and specifically for the Showboat Lounge. The server came back ten minutes later with the drinks. (This is not an exaggeration - by this point we had actually started timing things as sort of an amusing pastime.) The amount of alcohol in the Irish coffee was virtually undetectable and was sent back along with a request for sugar for the cappuccino. It was a full 15 minutes before he came back. We told him that we were now late for dinner and wanted a credit for the both coffees. Rather than simply apologize for the delay, he argued that they had run out of sugar in this lounge and he had had to run down to the dining room for sugar. His attitude was that the delay was our fault because we had ordered coffees instead of drinks from the bar, even though coffees were plainly on the menu for this particular lounge.
Food from the Solarium pool grill (burgers, pizza, hotdogs) was satisfactory. Although the grill was popular, it was always understaffed though with only one single person behind the counter. I ordered a hotdog and fries on the first day and the server didn't even bother to put the wiener inside the bun. I tried to order an Oreo shake from the menu on the third day and was told they were out of Oreos.
Throughout the cruise, it seemed the room attendants and all of their supplies were constantly ubiquitous. For the first four days, until we requested that she move it, our room attendant's entire cleaning cart with her bags of dirty towels seemed parked right outside our door. I guess we had expected that service for the premium suites would be better and by experienced attendants. Even during the last two days, she repeatedly called me by the wrong name.
RCL touts their "gourmet" food selections and menus. Instead, while food looked good enough, flavor was rather bland and selection was limited to ordinary fare. No rack of lamb, beef Wellington nor king crab legs here. The highest end entrée of the week, surf and turf, was a big disappointment. The "steak" was not filet mignon nor any other decent cut but a cut from a shoulder which was tough and cooked well beyond medium rare as requested. In other words, it was a steak that you would expect on Bingo night. All entrees and courses for the entire section served by the server was brought out all at once. Thus from the time that the first person to the last person received their dishes, it would easily be five minutes by which time entrees would be lukewarm. Salads were set out by the server but you would have to wait 5 minutes until the assistant server brought the salad dressing around. Bread was not brought by and drinks were not refilled unless requested. Although the dessert descriptions sounded good and they looked delicious, they equally average tasting. Some fellow shipmates said that they though the food was delicious and it made us wonder if we were eating the same food.
Entertainment aboard the ship in the main theater was mediocre. The singers and dancers were actually quite good but the sets, customs and shows seemed dated and a bit cheesy. I would equate them to what you would see if you were to attend an American Idols show. Productions on Princess were higher quality and involved dramatic sets and lifts and effects.
We were glad when the cruise ended. One last annoyance was that we had expected our baggage tag group to be among the first groups to be scheduled to disembark (just as first and business class disembark first off an airplane). Instead, after waiting 1.5 hours for the majority of other the groups to disembark, we finally got in line to disembark even though our group hadn't been called yet.
The bottom line was that although the ship and facilities themselves were nice, the average to low food quality and poor service made this cruise experience less than enjoyable. Throughout the cruise, we wished that we had taken Princess again instead. After having cruised twice on Princess and being able to compare the two lines, it was obvious that Princess was noticeably superior in every way. While the staff on both Princess ships went out of their way to please and food was memorable, on the Vision, food was forgettable and the service was inexperienced and, at times, sullen. Hate to write such a negative review but unfortunately that was the experience and memories that we'll have of this cruise.