This was the 6th cruise for my wife and I, all on RCI. This was also our 2nd time on RCI's "Vision of the Seas". We sailed on the Vision OTS one year ago to the Mexican Riviera, and we returned this year to sail her to Alaska and her repositioning to Los Angeles for the winter season in Mexico. This cruise was scheduled for 9-nights, 5-nights in Alaska with a day cruising the Inside Passage and stops in Juneau, Skagway and Ketchikan, followed by 4-nights southbound to LA, 3 days cruising with a stop in San Francisco in between on the way.
We arrived in Vancouver a couple of days before our cruise to see Vancouver, Vancouver Island and Victoria. We were not disappointed in any way with our time in Canada. We really enjoyed to sites in Vancouver (especially Stanley Park) and our ferry ride to Vancouver Island to see Victoria and the famous Butchart Gardens.
When the day finally arrived to set sail, we turned in our rental car and took a shuttle to the port. RCI often uses Ballantyne Pier, not Canada Place for it's ships, so if you are sailing out of Vancouver to Alaska, be sure to check your documents and make sure you get to the right pier in Vancouver. We arrived around 2pm, and now that we are Platinum Crown and Anchor members, we were able to use the VIP check in and we were through security and on the ship in about 15 minutes. Online check-in before sailing is a must for RCI and makes the embarkation process go very smooth, I highly recommend it.
The Vision OTS is still the elegant ship we remembered from 1 year ago. Very clean, nor wear marks on the carpets or the furniture. The crew kept the ship spotless and sparkling! We marveled again at just how nice everything looked on the ship. The art work was of a southwest US kind of motif, with lots of paintings and sculptures from artist in Mexico and the southwest United States. It seemed to follow that general theme in all the art work throughout the ship. One other type of art work is the numerous model ships all in glass we found in many of the public area, like the Crown and Anchor Lounge, the Windjammer Café and the Schooner Bar.
We opted for a junior suite, deck 8 aft on the corner with a wrap around balcony. The corner balcony cabins and suites are famous on RCI Vision class ships, and we booked 12 months out to get this one. We were very pleased with our stateroom! It is true what has been written on the message boards here, the better your stateroom, the more time you will spend in it. Our balcony wrapped around the ship from the aft to the starboard side of the ship. We had views to 2 sides of the ship, just great for Alaska viewing! Our wrap around balcony had so much space; we could probably have fit 15 people comfortably on the balcony if we had wanted to. Inside the junior suite, we had a nice seating area with a love seat on one side and 2 chairs on the other. The bed was comfortable and our bathroom actually had a full bath tub, not a shower stall! RCI hasn't gotten around to changing the staterooms on the Vision yet, so the older bedding is still there and no new flat screen TVs, but our junior suite was still a great home for our 9-nights on the Vision OTS.
As has been the case in all our previous RCI cruises, the staff and service were excellent! Our stateroom attendant did a great job; he knew our names and greeted us with a smile every morning and evening when we saw him. He kept the room very clean and kept our fridge stocked and plenty of towels on hand for us. Our dining room staff was equally magnificent. Our head waiter this year was the roommate of our head waiter from a year ago. Our waiter and asst. waiter did fantastic, they learned our dinks and food preferences the very 1st night, and we never had to ask for anything twice with this staff. We did see some familiar faces from a year ago, the cruise director John Blair and his wife the activities director Katrina were still onboard. I got a chance to speak with them both during the cruise, and I know they probably didn't remember me from last year, I enjoyed getting a chance to spend some time on deck with them both late one night and talking a long while about RCI and the Vision OTS. If there is one area that RCI really excels in, it is their staff and service onboard.
Ports of Call
We had 3 stops in Alaska and a stop in San Francisco on this cruise. Our 1st port was Juneau, Alaska's capitol city. My wife and I took separate shore excursions at this port. My wife is an avid photographer and booked herself on a photo safari, while I took a shore excursion to the Mendenhall Glacier. Juneau is an interesting city, only accessible by air or water. It has a real western and frontier fell to it. Just stop by the Red Dog Saloon and you'll know what I mean. Our 2nd stop was in Skagway, the gateway for the 1898 gold rush. This was my favorite port on our cruise. Skagway has a very colorful history to it. When you walk through downtown Skagway, you are walking by buildings actually built over 100 years ago and still in use today. We took the White Pass Railway excursion through the mountains up to Frasier B.C. This was the original railway the miners took during the gold rush, and is a great way to see Alaska and its beauty. If you ever do go to Skagway, make sure you hear the story of Soapy Smith and Frank Reid, and visit their graves at the Gold Rush Cemetery. Skagway has a lot of interesting history and great stories in its past. The last port in Alaska was Ketchikan, and here we took an excursion on a sightseeing boat to see American Bald Eagles and Totem Poles; both of which Ketchikan has more of than anywhere else in the world they claim. While sailing south to LA, we stopped in San Francisco for a day. We arrived at approx. 11am and didn't sail away until midnight. We spent our time on the waterfront, visiting Pier 39, Fisherman's Wharf, and Ghirardelli square. We skipped dinner on the ship that night and visited our favorite restaurant in San Francisco, "The Stinking Rose". It has kind of become a tradition whenever we go to San Francisco to visit this restaurant and eat here. It's an all garlic restaurant and has great food!
The food in the dining room was good and there was plenty of it. Food is not RCI's strongest asset. The Windjammer buffet was good, but it was typical RCI buffet food, and you had better get to it when it 1st comes out because it is not very good after it has sat in the warmer for very long. We did enjoy the dining room food, and we tended to eat there for all our meals.
The highlight of our cruise was the entertainment. We skipped the 2 singers and dancers production shows because they were the exact same production shows we saw a year ago on the Vision OTS and this last February on the Majesty OTS. However, the specialty acts were great! We were treated to a performance by the great comedian Marty Allen of the Ed Sullivan Show fame. He and his wife, Karon Kate, put on the best show of comedy I can remember onboard a ship. The ship also had 2 other acts, jugglers/comedians called "Shark Bait", and a group of drummers and dancers from Argentina. Overall we were very happy with the entertainment onboard.
On our debarkation day, we decided to keep our own luggage and use the self-assist process and walk off the ship with our luggage. This worked out very well for us and after waiting in a line for about 10 minutes, we were off the ship and on our way to the airport for our flight home.
I would give this cruise a 9 on a 1 to 10 scale. We had a great cruise, but unfortunately, the weather did not cooperate for us on this trip. We had some very rough seas leaving Vancouver, and it rained and/or drizzled at all of our 3 ports in Alaska. You cannot blame RCI for the weather, and we tried to go about our shore excursions as if the weather didn't matter, but sometimes we just couldn't avoid it. In Juneau for example, all the helicopter and floatplane excursions were canceled due to weather and a lot of cruisers were very disappointed. Our dining room table mates told us this was the 3rd or 4th time they had taken this very cruise on the Vision OTS in late September to Alaska and repositioning to LA, and they said this was the worst weather they had ever experienced on this cruise. Oh well, no one to blame, just the luck of the draw I guess. In RCI's wisdom, however, they have decided that the Vision OTS will no longer cruise Alaska, this was her very last cruise to the last frontier of America. She will now sail the Mexican Riviera exclusively for RCI until January 2009 when she will then be brought through the Panama Canal to cruise the Caribbean year around. We did get to see and experience a lot in Alaska and had a great time on my favorite RCI ship Vision OTS. I highly recommend a cruise on the Vision OTS to anyone.