If you're reading this then you may be debating whether or not to take this cruise. Sea Dawg says you should because of the Holy Land itinerary - not because of the ship. Or you may have already booked and now you might be wondering whether or not you messed up. Sea Dawg says you done alright. Or you might be hoping to learn a few things from a salty dawg. Sea Dawg will try to do just that. Is Sea Dawg critical? You betcha. I call it like I see it. Criticism should not be equated with dislike of cruises.
Arrival: We flew into Marco Polo Airport, Venice, Italy and rode the city bus (3 Euros) to Piazza Roma hub - about a ten minute walk to the port.
Embarkation: We arrived and witnessed the Royal Caribbean port terminal in chaos. Advanced printout of our SetSail Pass and completed information failed to speed up processing. Though advertisements trumpet express check-in, hospitality room and priority boarding for Platinum & Diamond members - we found we weren't the only Platinum dawgs denied this "perk". Human error? Maybe - but there are no consequences to those that made the error. It was "hurry up and wait" - we sat on a bare concrete floor with luggage waiting for our group number to be called for processing aboard - the first group began at 1:00. We were finally allowed aboard at 2:15. Sea Dawg rates Royal Caribbean embarkation all growls. Those who waited until 3:30 "breezed" through check-in.
Photographs: Photographers will greet you throughout the cruise. You should know in advance that these photographs are not complimentary or cheap. But you are not obligated to buy. If interested, stop and pose. If not, say, "no thanks" and be on your way. Sea Dawg has experienced a few times when photos go on sale or can be bargained down in price near the end of the cruise.
Welcome Aboard: Vision of the Seas, (1998), older and next to smallest class (78,000 tons; 915' length) than others in the RCCL fleet, is scheduled for an overhaul - and it really shows. Some salty dawgs familiar with mega-ships found Vision disappointing, but others found her a good size. Sea Dawg's experience has been bigger is not always better. You may have learned that sodas, bottled water, fruit juices, beer and alcoholic drinks are available for a price. Unless you can be content with free coffee, tea, lemonade and tap water, you may want to purchase a soda package. If you are keeping track - shore excursion expenses and soda packages are adding to the cost of this cruise you thought you had already paid for - and Vision hasn't left the port yet! If you aren't careful, RCCL will nickel & dime dawgs at every turn.
Cabin: Ours was an inside stateroom on Deck 7, forward. We found it convenient to everything. We are not ones to spend much time in the stateroom anyway. Our stateroom was quite small but efficient. Carpet, furnishings and bathroom were showing their age and heavy use. Two people had to choreograph moves to navigate the tiny floor space. One person standing in front of the closet could be caged in if another opened the bathroom door. The bathroom was something like an airplane restroom with a tight don't-drop-the-soap shower. Sorry, no bathtub except in luxury suites. Sea Dawg says it is a good idea to pack your own won't-fall-through-cracks soap and specialty shampoo. Be forewarned - our hot water was either scalding or lukewarm. We find that we keep a small stateroom neater than a larger one - have to or else the accumulated clutter immobilizes us. I think we would have felt less ship motion in a cabin more in the center of Deck 7.
A Day 1 Cruise Compass listing all the ongoing activities, information and suggestions was on the bed. The lifeboat muster stations are on your SeaPass card. We did not have to wear life jackets to the mandatory muster drill. Muts be warned not to skip drill because staff is checking your name on their roll.
Around the Ship: We had time to explore the ship. If you have time try to locate places where events happen. My advice is start at the top and work down using the stairs. You should at least know where the medical facility is (Deck 1). You might want to inquire if your medical insurance covers you - in most cases it won't.
We encountered faint musty odors and sewery smells wafting down the hallways on Decks 2 & 3. To us this indicates chronic plumbing problems hard to fix. If this might be an issue with you, book staterooms on higher decks.
Aquarius, the main dining room, has two levels on Decks 4 & 5. We met the Maitre 'd and got information on our table seating, attire and meals. At this time of year, the sun goes down before early dinner begins so there's not much advantage to getting a window seat. Windjammers only sometimes offered the same entrée as the main dining rooms at dinnertime. Windjammers is the buffet restaurant where one can spot chow hounds loading plates like they're about to be stranded on a deserted island for a month - only to eat half of it. And few appreciate line crashing hyenas who snatch away all the remaining servings forcing those whose mothers taught them better to wait until another tray arrives from the kitchen. Deck 4 is also home to the Centrum floor.
Deck 5 is where Guest Relations, Casino and Masquerade Theatre are located. By far the largest cash intake comes from the gaming in the Casino. House odds are higher than at Las Vegas. In other words, there are greater odds you will lose. So consider money lost gambling the cost of entertainment. To that end there are free gaming lessons offered. Be careful, the ATM machine is here, too.
Deck 6 has the onboard shopping. Think of the pricey little shops at upscale hotels and you'll have the right idea. Resist the temptation and don't pay "retail" just yet. There will be "sales" throughout the cruise and a few good values might be found. Deck 6 also has the Schooner Bar and Some Enchanted Evening Lounge.
Decks 7 & 8 are cabin decks. Deck 9 is home to Windjammers, the Main Pool, the Solarium (sheltered adult pool) and the Spa. Deck 10 is home to the jogging track, Fitness Center, and Ocean Adventure. Deck 11 houses the Viking Lounge.
Our cruise was not fully booked, so we were pleased few experienced long waits for an elevator. Even so, we found the stairs quicker at peak times. There were quite a few organized Holy Land tour groups aboard, notably from South Korea. The majority of passengers were mature dawgs 50 years up. There weren't many pups aboard and no frisky college canines. Not to worry, we had our share of incredibly loud and rude, line crashing, seat saving, argumentative Russian hounds aboard.
Dinner: We met our fellow tablemates - all new to us, about the same age and cruise experience, and truly enjoyable company. Kudos to RCCL table assignments.
I've read some reviews from Pedigrees complaining about dinners and I have to reply that it is completely unrealistic to expect 5-star dinners at RCCL's moderate prices. Sea Dawg found the quality and quantity of the prepared food consistently very good. No, it's not the best culinary offerings the cruise industry has to offer. - and RCCL no longer serves lobster. Pedigrees who want 5-star cuisine should book luxury cruiselines and pay their premium prices. For the rest of us, this is a chance to sample cuisine we don't often enjoy. If it's not to your liking, your waiter will bring you something else. Big dawgs can order a second entrée if they like. No, we weren't offered filet mignon or whole boiled lobster. But duck, lamb, veal and tiger prawns were. And, yes, you could order steak every night. Vegetarian, "lite" and Asian offerings were usually available.
Dinners are an event that shouldn't be rushed. If you are in a hurry, do your tablemates and waiters a favor and eat at Windjammers. If you want to know the chef's secrets, you can purchase the recipes.
Waiters come from all over the world. Their English proficiency varies but is generally merely functional. Most try very hard to please you and really do earn their tips. Wit and humor were in ample supply at our table and any pretense of formality fortunately disappeared the first night. Dinnertime became an enjoyable highlight of this cruise.
Dancing Under the Stars: Romantic sounding isn't it? Fortunately, on this cruise there were many opportunities for romantic dancing. Never learned how to dance? There are free ballroom dance classes available.
Day 1 - Venice If you've never seen Venice don't miss this opportunity.
Days 2 - 3 - 4 At Sea Vision has a long way to go and a short time to get there. Seas were moderate and the realized wind topside was about 40 knots. In order to make speed, the stabilizers didn't seem to be deployed. Vision maintained a slow undulation punctuated by jerks and vibrations. Seasick bags were hung on stair landings, and seasick pills were available at the Guest Services Desk for green dawgs. It serves as a warning. Dawgs prone to motion sickness are well-advised to be prepared to medicate. In rough seas Vision will definitely rock-n-roll.
The Shows: The Royal Caribbean Singers and Dancers productions were a notch above theme park shows. To their credit, the shows were performed live to music provided by a live band. Special kudos go to Tim, the sound tech - who kept the sound from becoming loud and distorted.
Headliner Guests were hit and miss. Our best performers were singer Bruce Parker and pianist Naki Ataman. Your cruise will probably feature different entertainers. Most of the others had show dawgs heading out the exits.
Day 5 - Haifa, Isreal This is the port for excursions to Nazareth, the Jordan River and the Sea of Galilee. The city itself features the famous Baha'i Gardens. For those who plan to walk into Haifa, be forewarned to be met by taxi drivers promising the moon for a bargain but most will take you for a ride and demand more than you thought you agreed to pay. A word about shopping: make your shopping list before you leave home. Too often dawgs purchase items on a cruise destined for a yard sale. Record the local or internet price so you'll know whether you are getting a bargain. Bone up on U.S. Custom limitations before you leave or you might find yourself in the dawghouse.
Day 6 - Ashdod, Isreal This is the port for excursions to Jerusalem and area. Hopefully you took advantage of the free travel talks that should prepare you for what you will see. For most, it isn't like anything they pictured. The Jerusalem walking tours are strenuous. Many group tours throughout this cruise rush here and there with limited site visitation time and greatly restricted opportunity to purchase merchandise along the way. At the end of the tour you will be taken shopping at a "trusted and approved" but overpriced store. Be aware that the merchant gives a percentage of sales to the tour guide and to the cruise line. Many of the same items are sold for less in shops near the port. Also be aware that Jerusalem is not a good place to attempt to tour on your own.
Days 7 & 8 - Alexandria, Egypt This is the gateway to ancient Egypt and you will find a good variety of excursions to match your interests and budget. There are a few rules to remember here: (1) Nothing is free. (2) Bargain for everything. (3) If you make a counteroffer, the merchant understands you are serious about buying. (4) Stay with and in your pack. This is a place dawgs should consider risky to attempt to tour on your own.
Day 9 - At Sea After four straight days of excursions most welcome a restful day at sea. The seas were glassy calm and the weather delightfully sunny and warm. So why was Vision still jerking and vibrating, especially aftwards? Most salty dawgs suspected the engine room.
Day 10 - Kusadasi, Turkey This is the port to catch excursions to the amazing ruins of Ephesus. Kusadasi has a maze of shops at the port entrance worth investigating.
Days 11 & 12 - At Sea The weather turned windy and rainy, with moderate seas as Vision steamed back to Venice. As before, Vision rolled, jerked and vibrated as she had to average 17 knots and the stabilizers were probably not deployed. The seasick bags reappeared and attendance in the main dining room dropped considerably. Salty dawgs feasted on abundant quantities of truly giant shrimp.
There is a lot going on aboard as RCCL makes an all-out final effort to part dawgs from their money. Bingo jackpot's gotta go! Items in shops go on close-out sale! Book your next RCCL cruise now and get onboard credit! Haven't climbed the Rock Wall yet? Well "get out there!" while you still have the opportunity!
You'll have received your envelopes to stash your cash for tips to your cabin steward, waiter, assistant waiter and head waiter. RCCL's suggests tip guidelines for all of the above persons per passenger.
You'll receive a comment card. My thinking is that if you mark everything "excellent" then RCCL will have no incentive to improve anything. But what most want RCCL to improve is not even on the comment card. You'll have to write in comments like "enforce your rules", "need more crew checking SeaPasses and attending the Guest Relations Desk", etc. yourself.
Check your SeaPass account for charges and accuracy at Guest Relations today before the crowd forms a long line. You should get a statement of account in your stateroom tonight. That's when many discover their bar tab, purchases, casino gaming and excursions cost more than the stateroom!
We had a early flight out and only had carry-on luggage so we signed up for express departure.
Departure: We ate a final breakfast in Windjammers then got our luggage from our stateroom.
Departure went well. There were the usual rude line-breakers trying to beat the system and too few crew members assigned to stop them. I can't figure out why line-breakers think they're the only ones in a hurry or why they are more important than anyone else in the scheme of things. This is one area I fault RCCL - too few personnel assigned to handle so many passengers. This should be an "all available hands on deck" situation. There were handicapped passengers needing more assistance than they received. There were people who didn't know which line to get in (one went to Guest Relations - not the exit). Nor do I comprehend why everyone must pass through one and only one exit. (FYI - those who booked the grandest staterooms receive special treatment. The old First Class and Steerage Class steamship system can still be witnessed.)
Given the recent bad press RCCL has received regarding poor security and crime coverup, we thought we might see more security patrolling the decks and enforcing the rules during the cruise. Not so. Know what you are getting into. You are taking certain legal risks on a cruise. U.S. law does not apply on the high seas. That is to say, you don't have Constitutional rights once you leave US territorial waters. Maritime law applies and by signing your ticket, dawgs waive many legal rights. From what I have experienced, RCCL security is all about minimizing RCCL liabilities and protecting their interests (and casino profits) and not protecting passengers or their belongings.
We used express departure - and rolled our own luggage off the ship. Sea Dawg has learned there are many advantages to packing light.
Should You Take This Cruise?
Cruise lines would have you believe cruising is for everyone. It's not! Are you willing to