I have cruised previously aboard Royal Caribbean's Sovereign and Monarch of the Seas in the Caribbean during the late 90s, as well as Seabourn Cruise Lines' Spirit in the Indian Ocean in 99. This was my Fiance's first cruise.
Having been pampered by Seabourn's five-star service (1 crewmember for each of the 200 passengers), I was not excited about a return to the hit or miss service, mediocre food, lackluster entertainment and overcrowding typical of mass-market cruising. However, with the exception of some serious design flaws in the ship and excessive noise next to and above our suite, I was literally stunned by the exceptional food, top-notch entertainment, delightful service and high level of cleanliness and maintenance on board this vessel. Other passengers I spoke with gave the ship equally high marks in all of these areas.
You get the impression docking next to the larger and in some cases newer Princess vessels in the ports of call that the Vision is a bit outdated. From a design perspective there is certainly nothing remarkable about this ship, although it benefits from light and airy open spaces and ample deck space topside. Getting around the ship is simple enough, and those who have sailed aboard the previous generation of RCI ships will not find any striking variations in layout, design or aesthetics.just a bit bigger, newer, and perhaps a bit more stable in rough seas. The internet cafe on deck 8 is a nice addition, but the connections are slow and the .50 cents per minute fee excessive. This interior of this ship is clean.and I mean CLEAN. We even saw maintenance crews at work cleaning the public areas, replacing carpeting, painting, etc. The one notable exception to this was that many of the deck chairs and most of the green felt deck surfaces were filthy and in desperate need of replacement. The spa and gym are large and well appointed, and the steam room and saunas are larger than you find in some land-locked facilities.
We thought we had "lucked out" by getting an upgrade from a category C balcony suite to a category A owners' suite. Indeed, the square footage is more than double, and there is lots of marble, glass, cherry wood and recessed lighting, not to mention the two 25 inch color TVs, Bose stereo, and marble-covered bathroom, itself nearly as large as an inside stateroom. Looks can be deceiving. Our cabin, 8002, is right underneath the Windjammer Cafe, and each morning beginning at 5:30 a.m. and each evening at around 11:30 p.m. there was tremendous banging and commotion coming from above. The noise would persist, off and on, throughout the day, so naps in our cabin were out of the question. Repeated calls to the purser's desk brought no resolution to the problem. To add insult to injury, our cabin had miserable acoustics and construction quality.we could hear our neighbors snoring and because of all the extra wood and glass, everything creaked loudly as the ship swayed. We got two nights decent sleep out of six total nights at sea, and only with the help of industrial-strength ear plugs. What a big disappointment.
My expectations were set lowest in this area, and were probably exceeded more than in any other. I say this having sailed aboard Seabourn, which has arguably the best cuisine afloat, and having eaten in the finest restaurants in New York and Paris. The food was outstanding with very few exceptions, and was night and day compared to food aboard Sovereign and Monarch several years back. Dinner in the dining room was exceptional. Notable dishes included Duck L'Orange (probably the best I've ever had), seafood risotto, escargots, pork loin, and the lobster tail, (which unlike previous cruises was not small and overcooked but very large and succulent). Of course, you can order as many appetizers and entrees as you like. Deserts were consistently excellent. Breakfast served in the dining room was served to order and always well prepared. The Windjammer Cafe -- although constantly out of items and plagued by kids and sloppy eaters who would spill food all over the buffet -- served tasty, hot fare, including some very good seafood and carved meat selections. The big surprise was the food served in the Solarium Cafe. Supposedly only serving pizza, hot dogs and burgers (and according to other reviewers not of the highest quality), the Solarium Cafe also served up an excellent fish sandwich and turkey burger, both of which I had several times and thought were outstanding and up there with the best I've ever eaten. The fries were hot and crisp. The food was made to order and never took longer than 5 minutes, even with crowds. Room service was prompt and never had our order wrong. We mostly used room service for breakfast, and my favorite was egg beaters and turkey sausage with toasted bagels and smoked salmon, which was of a relatively high quality. The coffee was excellent. I missed one of the midnight buffets, which was excellent from all accounts and included suckling pig and other grilled steaks and meats.
Our dining room waiter, Amit from India, was the finest I've had aboard ANY ship, including Seabourn. He was not happy until we were happy. This meant making sure we had enough entrees and appetizers. He would always make suggestions and learn our likes and dislikes. Sometimes he would even surprise us with extra entrees if he sensed that we were having trouble deciding between items. On the other hand, he was not always bothering us and making us feel uncomfortable. Our assistant waiter was always very attentive although he got a bit too aggressive with pushing wine and other drinks. There was one drawback with the dining service. RCI apparently places more emphasis on protecting each waiter's passengers in their dining area (to protect their tip revenue) than on evenly distributing diners throughout the dining room. The result is very uneven coverage and some couples sitting by themselves. This was our predicament until we demanded to be moved, which was not viewed favorably by the dining staff. Because of the uneven coverage, Amit had over twice the passengers of some neighboring dining sections. The result was that we were consistently the last table to leave the dining room and often waited 15-30 minutes between appetizers and entrees. Had the company at our table not been as good as it was, this would have been a huge problem. Service in our stateroom was fine, and our Cabin Steward, Sydney, would often bring us complimentary water and soft drinks. Only rarely did I pass an RCI crewmember without a "good afternoon" or other friendly greeting.
Like the food, the quality of the entertainment was a real shocker - in a good way. All the shows I saw - a couple of the comedy acts and a game show of sorts called The Quest - were excellent and better than some I've seen in Vegas. Two Funny Guys was absolutely hilarious. An unlikely source of entertainment was the Captain's speech during the Captain's Cocktail Hour. This guy is hilarious. His bit was better than some on-board comedy acts on past voyages. There is always a lot to do on board, although a lot of it may only appeal to a small group, like the Yoga, trivia, bingo, slot tournaments, etc.
PORTS OF CALL
Don't take this cruise if you are expecting to visit exotic ports of call with authentic culture and tours of ruins and antiquities. If you like margaritas and cold beer, shopping for t-shirts and jewelry, and haggling with locals for just about everything, this is the cruise for you. The quality of the jewelry steadily improved as we moved south. Puerto Vallarta had by far the best selection and quality of silver and Tanzanite jewelry. The beaches were definitely quite average, nothing compared to Cancun, the Caribbean or Tahiti. Mazatlan was definitely our least favorite port of call. You have to take a 10 minute tax ride to the shopping area, which consists of roughly four blocks of the same old souvenir and jewelry stores. We took our only shore excursion in Mazatlan - the shopping and beach tour. The shopping was average and the resort where we had lunch and spent the afternoon was definitely a mid-to-low range property. I must admit that lunch was pretty good.
Were it not for the fact that RCI made up for the cabin noise by catering a small cocktail party for our tablemates and other friends (including champagne!), I would have left the ship quite unhappy. As it turns out, RCI is overwhelmingly committed to passenger satisfaction and I was frankly amazed that they went to the lengths that they did to ensure that we were satisfied with the entire experience. Vision may not be the newest, biggest or most feature-packed vessel on the seas, but the outstanding service, food and cleanliness of this vessel really stood out and resulted in a tremendous cruising experience that I recommend without any reservation. You can check out our cruise photos at www.geocities.com/vision042802, or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions about our cruising experience.