I took the same Easter vacation itinerary on the Royal Caribbean Vision of the Seas that I took last year during Easter vacation week on the Carnival Elation. Ports included Cabo San Lucas. Mazatlan, and Puerto Vallarta, but the main attraction was the ship herself. This year I traveled with my seven year old granddaughter for little more for both of us than I paid last year for myself. Last year I shared a very cramped cabin with a stranger for the higher cruise fare.
Pros: The ship was beautiful and kept in spotless condition by a crew that cleaned continuously. The children's program was excellent. Hannah enjoyed the activities as much as the more elaborate ones on the Disney Magic last summer. She said that all of the counselors were very friendly all of the time. The climate control in an inside cabin on a lower deck worked perfectly. The bed was comfortable and the cabin nicely appointed for the price even though it was a bit on the small side. Room service was very well done with courteous delivery, warm food, and no errors. The Masquerade theater has an excellent sound and lighting system and the sound level at most of the shows was kept at an enjoyable level. Sight lines were excellent from all seats.
Cons: The most important con was that the food in the dining room was mediocre most of the time except the desserts. They were consistently excellent.
The signage on the ship for finding your way around was the worst of any ship on which I have been. I can usually find my way around fairly well by the end of the first day by using aid provided near elevators, over doorways, and on convenient walls. At the end of the week I was still having trouble because there were very few such aids and even the crew did not know where some rooms were. I never did find the gymnasium as I was sent to several decks and different locations on those decks when I asked for directions. There were Lucite crosssections of the ship near the midship elevators and small clear Lucite plaques in the halls that could be seen only if you came up very close to them. Fire doors in the halls had no indications of what lay beyond them. At first I avoided going through plain unmarked doors thinking they were to areas not for passengers. I soon learned that they often lead to main passenger areas.
The public restrooms are not on every floor and were not easy to find. Small signs pointing in the general direction were hard to spot. Sometimes the arrow meant go to another floor, sometimes down the hall.
More detailed observations, in no particular order:
Although I am familiar with the fact that the port is very close to the airport in San Diego; I decided to take the RCCL bus in order to avoid dealing with our luggage. by taking the bus for $15.00 each I did not have to deal with luggage again until it appeared in our cabin soon after we were on board. The lines were short at the ship terminal because we were over an hour before embarkation was officially to begin. We were through two lines, the paperwork counter, and two metal detectors in less than 45 minutes. Hannah spotted the main pool immediately, but agreed to a quick buffet lunch before swimming. I always pack as though my checked luggage is going to be lost by putting key items in our carry ons; therefore, Hannah was in her bathing suit and into the pool while most people were waiting for their luggage to arrive. She had the pool to herself for most of an hour. The pool was crystal clear heated sea water. There were lots of lounge chairs and large beach towels available. There was no music on deck for embarkation until just before we sailed. At about 4:45 PM a Caribbean band began to play. Piano music was featured in the Centrum during the afternoon. After Hannah's swim we went to the cabin where we found her suitcase inside. We got her unpacked and dressed in dry clothes. Our next stop was the children's area where we registered her for their program for 6-8 year olds. I was surprised to learn that a seven year olds could sign herself in and out with the permission of the parent.
THE CHILDREN'S PROGRAM
The children's program is divided by age groups. Hannah was in the "Explorers" for six to eight year olds. We were told to let the room steward know her age. Each evening the Compass was delivered to let me know all about adult activities for the next day and her own edition of the Compass with all of the activities for her age group was also delivered. Some meals could be scheduled to be eaten with the children and counselors. Hannah enjoyed this option so I had dinner in the dining room with her only a few times. She either ate with the children or grabbed a pizza or hot dog at the snack bar after her afternoon swim so that she wouldn't miss an activity going on during our dinner hour. Each day there were scheduled activities at appointed times: special games, science projects, arts and crafts, movies, and evening party activities. The only problem I found was that the time scheduled for parents to pick up children was often the same time the main show of the evening began for late sitting diners. Hannah did not like to leave in the middle of an activity and I did not want to come late into the theater; therefore, I was glad that she was allowed to sign herself out and come join me. The end of her evening party session was often before my dinner was quite ended so she could sign herself out and go to our cabin and get ready for bed. I would join her in the cabin within about five or ten minutes. She liked the independence, but I made sure to join her at the appointed place within a few minutes after her arrival. After the scheduled pick-up time group babysitting was $5.00 per hour per child. I did not use the after hours service. I would recommend that if you are going to allow your child sign out privileges you agree on exactly where you are to meet and make sure that the child is very familiar with the route from the children's area to the meeting place. You want the taste of independence to be fun, not frightening. One time when Hannah did not arrive in the theater as soon as I expected her I used the phone in the hall just outside the door to call the children's area. The counselor who answered was very pleasant when she explained that they were running a little late and that the children had not left yet. The children are given cardboard tokens for each activity in which they participate. They accumulate these tokens to exchange for prizes on the last night. Hannah got a small stuffed octopus that she values. She also decorated a pillowcase at the pajama party one night and decorated a T-shirt at pirates night. Overall I felt that the children's program was well run and the children seemed to be having a great time whenever I came to get Hannah to go swimming.
THE DINING EXPERIENCE
On this particular sailing there were too many diners to seat everyone in the main dining room. Therefore there were sixteen of us who were seated in a small private dining room off of the main room. At first I was disappointed as this was not nearly as beautifully decorated as the main room. However I soon learned that it was much more quiet during dinner and that my dinner companions at both tables were very friendly and added to the enjoyment of the dinner hour. We had a waiter and an assistant who served only our room. Our service was consistently very prompt as well as courteous and professional. We were often eating our dessert while many of those in the main room were starting on their entrees. This was fortunate for me as I had to leave in the middle of the dessert course to meet Hannah in the cabin. On the other side of the picture was the quality and selection of the food. The menu listed appetizers and soups all together as one group. Neither were very adventurous; they were rather ordinary selections for the most part. They were not bad and were presented attractively. I know that some passengers like to have familiar Western choices, but I look forward to trying fancy appetizers on a cruise, and to trying dishes that I cannot cook at home. These selections were just not special. The second night I had filet mignon, my fellow diner and I both found our cuts to be quite flavorless although tender. The asparagus served with it; however, was perfectly cooked to be tender crisp and delicious. I asked if it would be possible to have a serving of just the asparagus and not get the whole entree plate again. The waiter brought me a small plate of asparagus that was the best part of the meal. On lobster night instead of having a small cup of drawn butter to dip each bite of lobster into as I have done previously, the assistant waiter came around and spooned a bit over the whole serving at once. One of the alternate selections that were available at every meal was a Caesar salad. One night, nothing on the menu appealed to me enough to waste the calories on, so I asked if it would be possible to put a few slices of chicken in the Caesar and I would eat it as my entree. The salad came with two chicken breasts plopped on top of it. It was not a very attractive presentation but I sliced up one of them and mixed it into the salad, it was adequate. The worst disappointment was rack of lamb served with lukewarm french fries. The meat was delicious, but there should have been roasted potatoes, or at least mashed potatoes. This was toward the end of the week and I was getting used to the idea that the food would not be what I had had on the Majesty of the Seas a few years ago so I did not request a replacement. On the last night they served wonderfully prepared prime rib with perfectly cooked baked potatoes. It was a real treat. The prime rib, scampi, the desserts, and a few other dishes showed that the kitchen could put out great food; I just wish they had chosen to do so more often.
Breakfast in the windjammer was typical breakfast fare. The line for the omelet station was very long and slow moving. Then the omelet cooked dryer than I prefer so I did not wait in the line again. Each day there was one main breakfast type entree in addition to scrambled eggs, breads and breakfast meats. If pancakes were served there would be no French toast or waffles. Their pancakes and the Belgian waffles were quite good and I enjoyed the oatmeal every day. Room service only lists typical continental items on the card you put out at night. I really prefer a full breakfast so I crossed out the front selections and wrote eggs Benedict and oatmeal for me and French toast for Hannah on the back of the card. All were delivered at the requested time and all were warm and much enjoyed in the comfort of our cabin. I wish I tried it sooner.
Hannah ate hot dogs or pizza in the Solarium cafe for her dinner on a few occasions. The hot dogs were Ok but the pizza had way too much sauce which had an undercooked raw tomato paste flavor that neither of us liked. The pizza on the Elation was much better.
Lunch was about the same coffee shop quality in both the dining room and the Windjammer Cafe buffet. Since the lines did not appeal to me I ate in the dining room, if at all.
THE POOL SITUATION
The outside pool was on an exposed deck and was slightly heated. The pool in the solarium was covered, heated, and protected from the wind. After the second day the weather became a bit too cold to swim outside comfortably. The information we were given said adults only in the solarium pool. Although we saw many children in the solarium I did not let Hannah swim there the first two days. When she mentioned that she was disappointed because it was too cold to swim in the outside pool to one of the counselors, she was told that while we were in port she could swim in the solarium pool if I stayed with her the whole time. She loved swimming against the current in one end of the pool and had a great time during the port days. I liked the fact that no pre-teen boys were jumping into the pool and hitting her during their games of Marco Polo as had been a problem on nice days in the outside pool. I think the adults only policy is a good one, but I would like to see a few hours of every day when the nicer pool is available to supervised children too. If children had their time, maybe fewer would disregard the rules. Some children swam in the solarium pool without adult supervision most of the time. There was no enforcement of the stated policy. Hannah's fare was the same as for an adult; it bothered me that she was to swim in the cold while adults had use of the better pool at all times, but I am a rule follower. Since port time was the only time she could swim in the nicer pool, we did not go ashore in Cabo San Lucas or in Puerto Vallarta.
I had made advance arrangements on the internet for us to go horseback riding while the ship was in Mazatlan. I had had such a great time riding with Randy's Happy Horses while on the Elation last year that I made the same arrangements for this year. Hannah had never ridden on a full size horse before, only a pony, so was quite apprehensive. There were eighteen riders with three guides. One of the guides, a young man by the name of Tony, tied the rope from Hannah's horse to his and stayed with her the whole time. She had a great time. In fact at the end of the trip she said it was the best part of the whole week. We rode for a time through a palm orchard then out onto a beautiful stretch of beach. After the ride we walked to at an open air restaurant on the beach for beer or soda. Some people ordered lunch which I was told was delicious. Hannah played in the surf and sand on the beach until time to leave. If you would like to try this adventure, the cost was $45 per person. This included transportation from the ship and back, the ride, and a beer or soda at the restaurant. You can contact Randy through the Mazatlan web page at mazatlaninfo.com. After we returned to the ship I intended to e-mail my daughter to let her know Hannah was back on the ship safely, but the satellite connection was not working. The next morning I followed all of the directions and thought I had sent a message. My shipboard account was charged for the time, but no message ever reached my daughter, nor was I informed that there had been any problem with the transmission. It had worked nicely on the Disney Magic so I was not expecting a problem here.
As on all ships there was a show each evening in the main theater, either before or after dinner. Only one of the shows stands out in my mind as great. The others were a pleasant way to end the evening, but nothing special. The music and comedy of Mario D'Andrea was by far the most professional show of the week. A talented entertainer with good material. The ship's orchestra was also very good and was a valuable addition to the shows each evening. There were two evenings of the standard Las Vegas type review, a juggler, a Goucho act, a comedian, and a young singer from the ship's ensemble who does not have quite enough voice to be on by herself. She would have been better with some backup. Because I spent the evenings with Hannah I did not catch any of the shows in the lounges. On the night of the Captain's reception we were waiting to go into the appointed lounge when it was announced the lounge was filled to capacity and no one else would be allowed in. They just closed the doors. I have never had this happen before. I could see holding the line until a few people leave or something similar, but it was handled in a most unsatisfactory way. They need to break the crowd into smaller groups or hold the reception in a larger room. I did not really care much, but first time cruisers like to meet the captain and there were people at my dinner table who were really disappointed. No one likes to get all dressed up for a party to which you have been invited, arrive at the appointed time, and be told you can't come in.
Since Hannah spent her days with the explorers, I had lots of time to myself. The bathroom was very small so it was nice to take my shower and get ready for the day after breakfast while she was occupied elsewhere. Note: if you have a daughter with long hair bring detangler or conditioner. The ship only provides a basic blue shampoo. We had our own quality shampoo, but I had forgotten the conditioner. The saltwater pools plus horseback riding meant shampooing and painful combouts.
The library had comfortable chairs, large windows with great views, and a pretty good selection of books. The card room had a nice selection of board games including games that a seven year old can play and enjoy. Several had all of their pieces so Hannah and I played Sorry and Chinese Checkers after lunch a couple of times.
Bingo costs $20 for 3 cards or $35 for six cards per session of five games. You must use all six cards at the same session. You cannot use one card this time and another a different time in order to just enjoy the play. Bingo has changed a lot since the days when you paid $1.00 per card and split the pot each game. They only call 51 numbers for the big blackout pot so, of course, nobody wins and the jackpot continues to grow until the last night. The last night they called numbers until a ten year old boy and his parents won a large pot of about $12000. An expense I did not expect was a $10 fee for the yoga class. The Compass said a "nominal charge." Ten dollars for one class is not a small fee to me. I have always thought the recreation on a cruise was included in the price. This is becoming less and less true.
Overall I enjoyed the cruise on the Vision of the Seas more than on the Elation. The entertainment was of better quality, the cabin was nicer, the pools were heated, and the ship was more tastefully decorated.
If you tip exactly the amount recommended by the ship, you can charge your tips to your shipboard account if you do so before Thursday evening. If you want to give more or less to anyone, you mush pay in cash.
I know now that debarkation does not have to be a madhouse. On the Disney Magic we stayed in our cabins until the time we were assigned to eat breakfast in the dining room. As we finished breakfast we just walked off the ship in a leisurely fashion. Unfortunately this was not the case on the Vision of the Seas. We had to be out of our cabin by 8:00 AM. After breakfast we sat with our carry ons in lounges where we breathed cigarette smoke and waited our turn to leave. We left in large groups and our luggage was in large groups. We found Hannah's quickly, but mine was not near hers. After finding my luggage we joined the large throng heading for the single exit. There had been many messages about when and how to tip, but there had been no information about how taxis are handled or where to get one. The front of the terminal was a madhouse. About a half block to the left of the exit from the baggage room was a traffic policewoman who was giving out numbers for getting a taxi. After about a twenty minute wait it was our turn and about ten minutes and $10.00 later we were at the airport.