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Doug DuCharme

Age: 56

Occupation:Retired

Number of Cruises: One

Cruise Line: Royal Caribbean

Ship: Vision of the Seas

Sailing Date: January 19th, 2003

Itinerary: Mexican Riviera

Reservations
Reservations for our first cruise were made through Alena Munda at the AAA office in Henderson, Nevada. Everything was handled promptly and professionally. We are very pleased with her service. The ship was Vision of the Seas, a Royal Caribbean International vessel.

Arrival
We arrived in San Pedro, California on Saturday afternoon, one-day before our cruise departure. We booked a Holiday Inn “Park & Cruise” package for $129 per couple, plus tax. For this price, we received a deluxe room accommodation for one night, continental breakfast, champagne, and free parking for the duration of the cruise. One of the best features - their parking lot was under video surveillance 24/7. Being in the casino industry, I liked that benefit. In addition, a chauffeured van was available to transport us to the Los Angeles World Cruise Center beginning at 11am the following day.

Day One – Sunday, January 19, 2003 - Embarkation

My wife Judy and I arrived at the LA World Cruise Center at 11am, Sunday morning. Fortunately for us, another couple riding in the Holiday Inn van was also scheduled for this cruise. Jim and his wife were about to begin their second cruise on a RCI ship. They took their first cruise only seven months earlier. I looked at them as experts…well, at least for the first day. After dragging our luggage into a passenger “line up” at the pier, we began our short wait. The cruise line’s porters picked up (a nominal tip was given) our three suitcases and brought them to the ship. Both Jim and his wife were very patient as we peppered them with a plethora of questions such as, “Is this wait going to take very long,” to the insightful, “will the ship sway much?” To say we were excited about this trip is an understatement. After waiting about 35 minutes, the line began to move. Before long, we were inside the building and progressing up an escalator to the second floor.

We were directed to a specific line that corresponded to the deck number our stateroom occupied. That line moved very swiftly. Ten minutes later we walked up to the counter and met Kelly. She was personable and helpful. Kelly issued us our SeaPass – on board charge card for everything, room key and boarding document all in one. This experience was similar to “check-in” at a hotel. Our business was completed in five minutes. Before leaving the counter, I asked Kelly to take our picture and she graciously agreed. It was now just a little past noon. After proceeding through the security clearance line…we saw her up close. She was big! Our ship - Vision of the Seas. The next item to address was the obligatory “Welcome Aboard” picture the ship’s photographer took of us before boarding the vessel. That task completed, we entered the gangway. The first sight one sees after stepping onto the ship is the elevator lobby. Adjacent to that is the Centrum, a towering seven-deck atrium adorned with lots of white marble, living plants and water elements. What a thrill. Our first cruise was about to begin.

Our Stateroom
I asked the first ship type person with whom I came in contact, “Hi, where would we find room 8048?” His reply, “On deck 8 sir.” With a duffel bag on rollers and a folded garment bag in hand, we proceeded. Next up, our Ocean View Suite with balcony on the eighth or Bridge deck. The elevator trip from deck 4 to deck 8 was quick. “Here we are…8048,” my wife exclaimed. The cabin door was open when we arrived. “This is nice,” I said to my wife. The room was larger than I though it would be and brightly decorated. Mirrors were plentiful and large. Lots of small storage too. Closet space was sufficient (adequate number of hangers) to accommodate both of us. I did have to stack a few pieces of luggage in the corner of the room, but it was out of the way. We had a couch that was about six feet long and two individual chairs. There is plenty of lighting in the room. The bathroom was efficient, large enough for one person at a time. The shower area, I found out later, measured about 74 inches from top to bottom. Of course, I’m 75 inches tall so I had to slump down when using that facility. Small price to pay. We did have a bathtub. The balcony or veranda as some cruise lines like to call it, was spacious. Yes, I could see myself spending several hours during this trip on the balcony. It was now about one hour from the time the van dropped us off until we entered our stateroom.

Our new acquaintance Jim had told us the checked luggage would not arrive until later in the afternoon, so we set off to explore our new home away from home.

The Ship
The ship is beautiful. We wandered from bow to aft, port to starboard. Even a novice like me had to learn a little maritime lingo. First suggestion, pick up the handy little “Welcome Aboard” pocket deck guide from your room and keep it in your back pocket. You will refer to it every day during the cruise. Upon proceeding to the Windjammer café for lunch, we consumed a delicious buffet style meal and tasty dessert. It would only be the first of many desserts we would devour...I mean enjoy. It was now time to check out our seat assignment. Upon entering the main dining room, Aquarius, we found our table…for eight. I had hoped to receive a table for two. A waiter walking around the dining area told me I could find the Maitre’ D at the Champagne Terrace. Next up, a meeting with the Maitre ’D.

I was told by many experienced cruisers that if you wanted to change your seating assignment, get to the Maitre’ D as soon as possible. Yes, I wanted to change. I was not alone. Upon arriving at the Champagne Terrace area, there was a long line to speak to the “head” man. Mostly it was people who were designated for the late seating and wanted the early seating. All I wanted was a table for two. It was our first cruise and I wanted to spend as many quality hours with my wife as I could. After a forty-five minute wait, someone announced my name. It was my turn. I approached the Maitre’ D with caution. I asked hesitantly, “May I change from my assigned table (a table for eight) to a table for two?” A slight pause ensued…”of course, sir” he stated. “Here is your new table number, first seating.” I expressed a smiling “Thank you” and tried to slip him a toke. He refused. The Maitre’ D and his staff’s interaction with this crowd was very professional and friendly. We left the area feeling liked a major hurdle had been conquered.

Now, on to the ShipShape spa. We proceeded up to deck 9, the Solarium pool, and spa area. This same deck houses the Windjammer Café and Main pool. After reviewing the list of services this resource offered, I decided on a fifty-minute “Well Being” massage. Judy chose the “Absolute Face and Body Treatment”…105 minutes of relaxation and pampering. Monday, our first full day at sea, was open so we reserved the 2pm-time slot. With the spa appointments accomplished, we proceeded back to the room to see if the luggage arrived. Judy and I used the stairwell this afternoon to move between the floors. In fact, we used it most days. It was good exercise and quicker that the elevators.

Arriving back at the room, the luggage still hadn’t arrived. We started to become concerned. Our stateroom attendant, Glyda from Nicaragua, arrived to introduce herself and welcome us aboard. I immediately gave Glyda $20 and told her there would be her regular toke at the conclusion of the trip if she watched after us. I explained to her this was our first cruise and we needed all the help we could get. She proved to be an invaluable resource. Consider yourself lucky if Glyda is ever your stateroom attendant. I asked her about our luggage and she told me she would bring them in upon arrival. We placed a green ribbon on the handles of each bag. This helpful hint was picked up reading a cruise review. Looking out the door of our room, we noticed the bags arrived in the nearby foyer. There must have been 75 black suitcases. Ours stood out having the green ribbons. We pulled the bags into the room and began hanging up our clothes. Finished, we still had a little time before the mandatory muster drill so we went to the Some Enchanted Evening Lounge on deck 6 for a few cocktails. Upon ordering our preferred beverage, I handed the waiter my SeaPass card. He returned a short time later with the cocktails, a charge slip to sign and my SeaPass…or so I thought. The lounge was lovely and we enjoyed our brief stay there. With the overhead announcement that the muster drill was about to begin, we walked back to our stateroom. Life vests in hand, we were ready.

The safety (muster) drill is scheduled for 4:30pm on deck 5. Attendance is mandatory. Upon hearing the signal, Judy and I donned our life vests and walked to our designated area. After the drill, we went back to our room to take off the vests, and prepare for the departure of the ship. Inserting my SeaPass into the lock, the door would not open. Much to my chagrin, this was not my SeaPass. The card belonged to a woman who was also in the lounge drinking a cocktail at the same time as we were. The waiter inadvertently switched cards. Next stop, the Purser’s desk. A very nice crewmember from Chile greeted us at the Purser’s desk and quickly re-keyed the room. A good lesson learned here…check and make sure you receive your SeaPass card back when you charge anything.

At 5:00 sharp the ship’s horn rang out – time to leave the pier. We walked up to deck 10 to wave farewell to good old terra firma. Nothing but water for the next few days. As a golden sunset glistened over San Pedro, the ship’s calypso band played “happy” tunes. Everyone took lots of pictures, smiling and happy to be finally leaving port. I asked a few people to take our picture and all were obliging. As darkness fell, we began to feel a chill in the air. It was time to return to the stateroom, freshen up and walk to the Aquarius dining room on deck 5 (and deck 4). Our first dinner on board the ship was to be a memorable one.

We arrived at the upstairs entrance to the Aquarius Dining Room a few minutes past 6pm. Roscoe, the headwaiter, extended a friendly greeting and escorted us to our table. Our waiter for the next seven evenings was Jenny, who grew up in Ireland. Leonard, from the Philippines, was the assistant waiter. Both of them provided outstanding service for the duration of this trip. Jenny and Leonard had a bit of a “test” most nights, as there was a table of eight children sitting beside us. I estimate their ages between five and nine years old. The parents sat a few tables down from the kids. All were well behaved…the children included.

Midway between the appetizer and salad, a distinguished looking crewmember approached our table. After a friendly greeting, he announced that Captain Admarker would like us to dine with him at his table tomorrow night, Monday, at 8:30pm. Why, to say we were flattered is an understatement. We thanked the gentleman and announced we would be delighted to accept the invitation. It was a privilege to be invited to the Captain’s table for diner. Jenny our waiter told us that we were two of eight people selected for this honor, out of about 2,200 passengers. Additionally, Captain Admarker dines with ship guests only once on a cruise. We felt special. Our first cruise and we are dining with the Captain. Shortly after consuming a delicious baked Salmon dinner, we complimented the meal with Key Lime pie. Next, we went off to continue our exploration of the ship.

The ship offers a daily newsletter, “Compass,” to all guests. It is placed in the stateroom during dinner. This information sheet outlines all activities to take place on the ship the following day. It is an invaluable tool. It behooves everyone to read it nightly. Even if you do not like to partake in activities, at least you will know which areas to avoid.

In the first issue of the “Compass,” we were informed to set our watches/clocks ahead one hour. This would coincide with actual time in Cabo San Lucas. Interesting, when we arrived in Puerto Vallarta, which is additional one hour ahead, we did not change the time.

Being our first cruise, it was a bit of a challenge getting our sea legs. We chose not to take any medication or use the “patch” behind the ear. On the first day the ship did a bit of swaying, but not all that much.

Later that evening, Judy and I went for a walk on deck 5. We stopped on the port side to observe a beautiful (and almost) full moon. It reminded me of a Hollywood movie set. The moonlight reflecting off the waves was a picturesque sight. This would be the first of many romantic evenings on board ship.

It was now 10pm and we started to run out of gas…day one was ending.

Day Two – Monday, January 20, 2003 - At Sea

I watched the sun rise at 6:30am. It was a beautiful sight. Slipping out to the balcony, I noticed the ocean was calm while a light breeze caressed the waves. There are several channels available on the in-room TV. One channel provides information regarding the ship - how far we traveled from San Pedro, the height of the waves, the outside temperature and so on. This morning the ship was traveling at 22 knots, waves were between two and four feet and it was 61 degrees. For some unexplained reason, possessing that information made me feel comfortable. Before long, Judy and I were up and out the door, on our way to breakfast.

Seating in the Aquarius Dining Room for breakfast and lunch was on the main floor only. It was also open seating. Upon entering, I asked for a table for two. The staff tries to seat everyone together as they enter…in no particular order. As the waiter at the door hesitated, I repeated my request for a table for two. We were led away from the main contingent of guests to an area that had three tables for two. It was perfect for us. Breakfast was delightful. Satia our waiter was from the Philippines. He was very personable. The ordered egg white omelet was tasty, as was the fruit. Breakfast was served in this outlet from 7am until 9am each morning. The Windjammer Café offers breakfast from 6:30am until noon everyday, for those who care to sleep late. After breakfast, Judy and I walked around the ship and soaked up some of the sunshine.

Upon returning to our stateroom, we found our invitation to the Captain’s Dinner for this evening. In it were instructions to meet the ship’s hostess at 8:30 on deck 4 outside the dining room. Later in the morning we picked up our “Welcome Aboard” photo at the gallery that sells these pictures, along with an album and a photo of the ship for $19.95 US. This would be the first of many photographs we would purchase during our inaugural cruise.

A couple of hours after breakfast we went up to the ShipShape workout room on deck 10. It was packed! Not a machine or bench to use. Several treadmills were out of order…and should have been repaired/replaced when the ship was in port. RCI needs to expand the size of this facility. Oh well, we had good intentions. We just kept walking.

Next, off to the Windjammer Café for lunch. If one can’t work out then one should go and eat! That was our credo for this day. The lunch buffet was very good and there was plenty of comfortable seating. The servers were helpful and polite.

It was now time to keep our Spa appointments. Ben from Ottawa, Canada was my masseur. I indulged myself with fifty minutes of being “pummeled and stretched…. kneaded and stroked…rolled and squeezed,” while my tension evaporated into thin air. All that for $99 plus tip. I had to tell Ben to ease up a few times, but overall he did a wonderful job. Judy had a great treatment. The masseuse used “different touches of reflexology, shiatsu and Swedish massage. The therapy included a deep scalp massage using exotic oils and pressure point facial.” Judy’s treatment was $165 plus tip. Suggestion – when making your reservation for the spa, ask the attendant to write the treatment and price on the reservation card you are issued. That will help eliminate any confusion that may exist at the close of your visit to the spa.

While I was waiting for my wife’s treatment to conclude, I lounged around the Solarium pool. Going for a short swim in the 86 degree salt-water pool was relaxing. After my swim, I went back to my lounge chair and looked up at the sky through the glass ceiling. I was starting to relax.

Once Judy exited the Spa, we proceeded to the Main Pool. After picking out two lounge chairs, we enjoyed the sunshine for about ninety minutes while listening to the Calypso band. There were not very many children on this cruise, maybe 50-75. They all seemed to be in this pool at the same time.

Arriving back in our stateroom at 4:45pm, we rested for a while prior to preparing to meet the “Master of the Vision of the Seas.” The Captain’s Welcome Aboard Cocktail Party took place at 7:30pm in the Some Enchanted Evening Lounge. Dress this evening was formal…Tuxedo (rentals are available) or dark suit for men, cocktail dresses or gowns for women. After beginning a little late, this social gathering lasted approximately 55 minutes. They actually gave out free drinks during this reception. After welcoming all guests aboard the ship, the Captain introduced his senior officers, each of whom gave a short speech. He also shared a little of his personal history. The music was pleasant and the mood was jovial.

Once the reception was over, we walked down to deck 4 and the entrance to the Aquarius Dining Room. We met Becky the ship’s hostess, a charming young woman. Becky introduced us to our tablemates…a delightful group of people. There were folks from all over the nation…even our hometown of Las Vegas. What a small world. We followed Becky to the Captain’s table where we were introduced to Captain Admarker. He is a charismatic person who possesses an enjoyable personality, a quick wit and dry sense of humor. Before dinner, we posed for a group photo that was presented to us later in the cruise…a gift from the Captain. The next two hours was spent enjoying good food, wine and conversation. All to soon the dinner ended, as the Captain rose to excuse himself and bid us all adieu. I was able to take a picture of Judy and the Captain as he was leaving the table. It was a memorable evening.

After dinner, we went back up to the Some Enchanted Evening Lounge to enjoy live music. The group of musicians performing was talented but their choice of music ran almost everyone out of the lounge. The sign of a “good group” in my opinion is one that plays music the crowd wants to hear. People having fun and dancing equate to increased length of stay and additional bar revenue. Needless to say, we departed. One of our few complaints about this cruise was that we had to pass through the expansive smoking section of the Schooner Bar to get to this Lounge. I’m a reformed smoker and it even bothered me a little…it really bothered my wife. Maybe an air evacuation system is in order at this bar or in any area where smoking is allowed.

Next, we were off to the disco in the Viking Crown Lounge on deck 11. Upon arriving via elevator we stepped out and into an enormous crowd…probably one to two hundred people, dancing the night away. We wanted to stay and dance but one could barely move it was so crowded. As it was midnight, we went back to our room for a night of peaceful slumber.

Day Three – Tuesday, January 21, 2003 – Cabo San Lucas

It is sunrise and I am enjoying sitting on the balcony as we arrive in Cabo San Lucas a few hours early. El Arco, a rugged rock formation with a wide arch cut through it by generations of tides and wind welcomes visitors from the sea. This is where the Sea of Cortez meets the Pacific Ocean. Since Cabo does not have a deep-water port, the ship will be anchoring in the middle of the harbor. Passengers will take a tender (small boat) to the pier. We were told that if we wanted to be one of the first people off the ship, be near the Champagne Bar around 9am, to pick up our tender boarding pass. Passengers who booked an excursion through the cruise line had first preference. Since we booked our own little excursion online (horseback riding on the beach), we figured we better be there early to pickup our pass. Well, we were one of the first. We boarded the second tender, 10am…a little early for our ride that picked us up at 11am. It gave us an opportunity to walk the harbor area and be “hawked” by an endless array of vendors. As it seemed like the “good deals” would go on in perpetuity, we did our best to hide until our ride arrived to take us to the stables.

Promptly at 11am, Rose Franklin, owner of Red Rose Stables, appeared at the parking lot entrance. After brief introductions, we walked to her vehicle. We asked Rose a myriad of questions regarding the area, all of which she answered patiently. Before long, we were driving off down the Boulevard Marina...the main drag. I asked Rose if she had bottled water at her stables; she answered no. We stopped at a local grocery store and picked up two bottles of water (thank goodness), as the temperature was in the 80’s this day. Arriving at the Red Rose Stables (www.loscabosguide.com/redrose.htm) took about ten minutes from the port area. This is where we met our trail guide Lupe and the two horses that would provide our transportation for the next two hours…Simba and Coloring. They were impressive horses in very good shape. Before long we were riding the range…well, we were off to the beach. And what a beautiful beach it was. The El Medano beach was pristine…as if no one had ever visited there before. And we had a clear view of our ship in the middle of the harbor. Lupe took several pictures of us with the ship in the background. Nice remembrances of the horseback ride. I wanted to dismount and take a break halfway through the ride, but my wife thought it not a good idea. She was concerned that I might not be able to get back up on the horse! In retrospect, two hours may have been a bit long…one hour would do me fine. It was my third time on a horse. Yes, it was like a Hollywood movie…only we were living it, not viewing it. After paying Rose the predetermined amount in U.S. dollars, she kindly drove us back to the port area. She dropped us off in front of the Plaza las Glorias Hotel adjacent to the port.

We noticed when we were walking the harbor area earlier in the day that this property had a second floor pool area. Upon giving the front desk clerk a refundable towel deposit ($40 American dollars), we were allowed to use their lovely pool. On the upper level patio, Bougainvillea of every color was on display. Looking out, we had a great view of the bay…and our ship. Of course by then we were out of film, so we only have our memories of that beautiful scene. At the conclusion of enjoying the sun and pool for two hours, we reclaimed our towel deposit then proceeded to walk back to the tender area. We practiced our “no thank you” many times on the return. Tenders leave the port every ten or fifteen minutes returning to the ship. Our wait was minimal. Arriving at the ship, we had to show our SeaPass to go on board. Famished, we visited the Solarium Café and sampled a small pizza and ice cold beer. The beer was good. After a short swim in the salt-water pool, we went to our room. A short nap was in order.

First run movies are shown every day on TV. Usually these films have concluded their run at the cinema and are due out in video very soon. Six different movies were shown during our cruise…all very enjoyable.

Musical or variety shows are offered twice each evening in the Masquerade Theater. I would categorize it as Vegas style lounge shows. They are pretty good. One night the Drifters (West Coast version) entertained. A few nights later, Mickey Dolenz (former member of the Monkeys) performed. The productions shows were OK. The comedian was funny.

Dinner this evening was delicious. The red snapper over rice entrée was one of the best I’ve consumed in years. In fact, the food in the main dining room was outstanding every night. Kudos to the Chef and his staff on their culinary expertise.

Day Four – Wednesday, January 22, 2003 – Mazatlan

It is 7am and again we are early to arrive in today’s port of Mazatlan. It is 73 degrees and the skies are partly cloudy. Two other cruise ship are already in port – Sun Princess and the Star Princess. The Star Princess is huge…and it appears that most cabins have balconies. We had choppy seas last night – four to eight foot waves. I later learned there was a significant (over 6.0) earthquake midway between Mexico City and Mazatlan that evening…that could have been the culprit. Upon disembarking (remember to bring bottled water), everyone is encouraged to take the free tram ride from the ship to the visitor information center…it is safer than trying to walk yourself. The souvenir shops in the center are much nicer than the ones in Cabo. Senor Frog’s has one their ubiquitous shops here. It is at this location that you can obtain a taxi. If you ask the driver how much he will charge to go to take you to a particular hotel, don’t pay it. Offer half…settle on something in between. Make sure you say U.S. dollars!

Again, rather than take a shore excursion offered by the cruise line, we decided to visit a local hotel in the Zona Dorada or Golden Zone. The Hotel El Cid is a fifteen-minute cab ride from the center. It is centrally located along the resort corridor. It has a great pool and a well kept beach area. I learned that all beaches in Mexico are public beaches. The El Cid staff is friendly. When you arrive, if you tell them you are on a cruise, they will let you use their facility. Of course, they may try to convince you that you should attend the one-hour time share sales pitch…just say “no thanks.” In Mexico, you will have plenty of practice using that phrase.

Upon staking out our spot on the beach, in a well-populated area, we relaxed and began enjoying the sun. Not five minutes later, the “Sand Merchants” began walking past us displaying their wares. Then my wife asked the one question every salesperson wants to hear, “How much?” It was all over after that! Every sand merchant within a two-mile radius came strolling past our lounge chairs during the ensuing five hours. Now the one thing you can do to even increase the frequency of their visits is to actually purchase something…which she did. Now I am seeing the same people over and over with the same merchandise saying the same thing…”Give you a good deal.” Funny, everything was offered at $15, no matter what it was. The sand traffic got so heavy at times, I felt like issuing them a number to see my wife. I finally had to get up and walk down the beach a few times…my wife, she loved it. Next to us on the beach was a group of eight very nice people from Ohio. They were sailing on one of the Princess ships. After about four hours, I retired from the sun. I picked out one nice little thatched hut and parked myself under it while my wife continued to entertain herself. Late in the afternoon, we departed the property.

In front of the hotel, we caught a cab back to the pier. While riding the tram back to our ship, my white baseball cap blew off in the breeze. Trampled by two more trams, I asked if we could stop to retrieve it, but realized that the driver didn’t speak English. Fortunately, the third tram driver noticed my hat, stopped and picked it up. The tire marks across the bill of the cap punctuated our visit to Mazatlan.

Dinner tonight was outstanding, again. Plus, there was a twist. The waiters and assistants provided a little entertainment this evening. I won’t tell you exactly what happens…it needs to remain a surprise. Suffice to say you will like it. During dinner most evenings, a three-piece group played soft enjoyable music. Judy asked our assistant waiter Leonard if this group accepted requests. He replied that these musicians were his good friends and yes, they would do their best to play her song. Judy requested the theme song from the movie “Somewhere in Time,” a favorite of ours. They did a wonderful job on this piece. At the conclusion of the song, Judy applauded and they nodded and smiled. That effort on Leonard’s part helped him get an extra $10 in his cruise ending envelope.

We visited the Observatory on deck 10 at the bow of the ship this evening. What a beautiful spot to view thousands of stars. Judy and I had this area all to ourselves. We silently took in the sea, stars and moon…a romantic moment imprinted into our memories forever. I’ll take as many of those as I can get.

Every evening while we were at dinner, Glyda our stateroom attendant, turned one of our bath towels into the image of an animal. It was cute. This night she turned a bath towel into what appeared to be an elephant...it also could be perceived as a male body part. She may need to work on that skill a little.

Day Five – Thursday, January 23, 2003 – Puerto Vallarta

We entered the port area at 7am this morning. Puerto Vallarta lies in a large semicircular inlet of Banderas Bay. Four months before we arrived, a hurricane had struck the area. I was told that it took quite a toll on most of the beachfront structures. I observed very little damage as the clean up had mostly been completed. The tourist areas appeared to be in good shape.

Glyda left a gratuity form and letter in our room last night. This is an automatic way to include the customary service gratuities extended to the housekeeping and dining room staff and charge it to our SeaPass accounts. Just sign and turn it into the purser’s desk. The letter went on to state that “this service is intended for your convenience and you are under no obligation to use it. Extending gratuities is a personal reflection of the service you received during this cruise.” They don’t encourage or discourage this practice. Each SeaPass account will charged $68.25 per guest. Here are the gratuities that will be include: $24.50 for the stateroom attendant, $24.50 to the waiter, $14 to the assistant waiter and $5.25 to the headwaiter. The amount can not be adjusted. You can chose to ignore this offer and place cash into the tip envelopes. I liked this suggestion…and besides, I wanted to give this much plus a little extra cash. This charge appeared on our cruise ending SeaPass statement as a gratuity. Prepaid gratuity vouchers and envelopes are delivered to the stateroom on Saturday and are customarily given to the service personnel the last evening of the cruise.

As sightseeing was low on our list of priorities again, we opted to lay on a beach close to the ship. We walked off the ship and down the street about four blocks to the Hotel Krystal. A sign was posted at the entrance of the property that read: “A $6 per person all day pool pass was available to cruise visitors.” Since we just wanted to use the beach, we cut through to the side entrance…and paid nothing. After picking out two comfortable lounge chairs on the beach under a thatched hut, one of the beach attendants for the Hotel approached us. He asked for our towel pass. We told him we didn’t have one…I gave him three dollars and he went away. Now the funny thing was that everyone else on the beach around us had deep blue towels and we had the light blue towels from the ship. Once we were relaxed, the “Sand Vendors” began approaching. Additionally, there must have been a metal detector convention at this property. We had several people walk past us with these detectors and their sifters. They were a busy lot…going over the same territory as their brethren. More distraction than anything. They eventually went away. The “Sand Vendors” didn’t however. Judy only purchased one item at this beach…a straw hat.

As we sat on the beach enjoying 80+ degree sun shiny weather, I noticed a man wearing a very brief bathing suit walking towards out hut. I guess what caught my eye was the fact that his belly was quite large and the bathing suit wasn’t. It made me want to do some sit-ups on the beach. I successfully resisted that urge and laid back down to resume my sun tanning. I did my best to rid myself of his image before closing my eyes. I’ll begin my diet upon returning home…I swear!

After about five hours on the beach we bid the Krystal Hotel goodbye. Walking back towards the ship, we encountered a small, clean shopping center in the terminal area. Judy immediately zeroed in on a nice little shop. I found a chair and sat myself down. It was pretty hot now…well into the 80’s and high humidity. I’m hot, tired and a little dehydrated, but what the heck…it’s not as if we get to shop in Puerto Vallarta very often. Thank goodness, we again brought water to the beach. I finished it while waiting for my darling wife to complete her entertainment.

After a few successful purchases, we arrived back in the stateroom around 2pm and immediately ordered two turkey sandwiches from room service. We received our room service order eight minutes after our phone call…that is fast service. Since room service waiters are not included in the gratuity pool, we tipped the waiter three dollars for the speedy delivery. The sandwiches were tasty. Time for a nap.

Dinner was excellent. We both had halibut…probably the best I have ever eaten. I had the low fat dessert…angel food cake (still had images of “Speedo Man” in my head). After dinner we walked to the Masquerade Theater to attend the Mickey Dolenz (former member of the Monkey’s) show. The performance lasted about forty-five minutes and was entertaining. Wanting the evening to continue, we proceeded up to deck 11 and the Viking Crown Lounge. The daily bulletin mentioned “Romantic Dance Time” from 10pm to 11:30pm this evening. Upon arriving at this lounge, we were surprised by the lack of people in the room. We soon came to find out why very few people were in the lounge. I’m not sure whose version of romantic music was being played, but it certainly wasn’t mine, my wife’s, or any of the other ten couples that visited while we were there. Moreover, all of those couples left before we did! We kept thinking it was going to get better, but it didn’t. I tried to get the DJ’s attention a few times but he was busy chatting with a couple of 20 year olds females. It is not a secret…keep people in the lounge and they drink. If they drink, more revenue for the lounge. More revenue…happy bosses. Someone needs to look at the amount of drinks purchased during these hours in this lounge and fix the problem. This was the only disappointing experience of the trip.

Next we walked through the Schooner Bar (cough - cough) heading back to the Some Enchanting Evening Lounge. It was 50’s and 60’s Rock n Roll night and “The Twist” was in order. It was a fun time. We ended the evening on a positive note. It was now after mid-night, time to retire to our stateroom.

Day Six – Friday, January 24, 2003 – At Sea

Slept in today…it felt great. The waters were calm and the sky partly cloudy. We will be eating breakfast at the Windjammer Café this morning. Upon entering the buffet food line, I was a little disappointed with the food offerings. After taking our seat, I noticed an omelet station, a waffle and pancake station, and an area for dry cereal. This was more of what I expected. The food was good and the service was fine.

After breakfast, we returned to the Some Enchanted Evening Lounge to listen to a presentation by Debra on booking future cruises. I enjoyed the presentation and thought it was helpful. She was articulate and the information offered was pertinent. We noticed that during Debra’s talk, the Cruise Director’s staff was preparing for a bingo session. I asked Judy if she wanted to try her hand at bingo and she said yes. At the conclusion of Debra’s presentation, Judy went and purchased one bingo ticket for each game. Having never played this game before, we paid close attention to all the instructions. “Frenchy” called the game. He was funny. Of course, you know who the winners of the first game were…that’s right – Judy and Doug! Total winnings were $64. Of course we don’t count the $35 we paid for the tickets. It was fun…always nice to win. After bingo, with the winnings burning a hole in our pocket, we proceeded to deck 6 and the shops. Judy purchased some well deserved tank tops and a T-shirt for me. That task complete, it was now time for lunch.

After lunch, we decided to lounge around on our balcony and enjoy the sunshine. That was short lived. Unfortunately, the staff was hosing off the deck above us (deck 9) and it was dripping onto our balcony. I thought this a little strange and untimely, as one would think this task would be completed at night or some time other than mid afternoon. Oh well, another mystery. After the water spraying was completed, we went out and enjoyed our balcony. It was restful sitting there watching the waves…great R&R.

Sunset this evening was beautiful. Puffs of pink and gray clouds dancing on a powder blue sky harmonizing with the ink blue ocean. What a wonderful contrast of blues. A moment like this reminds you that this universe is a spectacular place and we should be thankful for every second we get to enjoy.

We are running a little late this evening. Dinner is at 6pm and it is now 6:20pm, but I’m sure they will wait for us.

Lobster was served this evening and it was very tasty. Combine that with a good bottle of wine and you have a delicious meal. We opted for the Spa Cuisine version of lobster…rather than butter, a citrus sauce was provided. It was great.

We bumped into Jim and his wife this evening. Hadn’t seen them much since we boarded the ship. They said they were having a wonderful time and enjoying the relaxation. We told them we were also.

Day Seven – Saturday, January 25, 2003 – At Sea

Boy are we at sea. We are rolling all over the place. Those four foot waves have been replaced with eight to ten foot waves. There are white caps as far as I can see. It will be a good day to pack.

After lunch we decided to spend the afternoon enjoying our balcony. About forty-five minutes later, the ship arrived in a fog bank. A thick, soupy fog bank. Every minute or so the ship sounded its fog horn…and that went on for several hours. No more sunshine. The fog was so dense that I could barely see the ocean below. A very good day to pack. We filled out the U.S. Customs form required of all passengers. We also completed the disembarkation ID tags for all our luggage. Gratuity envelopes were prepared and ready for this evening’s dinner. I handed Glyda her envelope in the afternoon. She was appreciative.

Arriving at dinner, we handed Jenny and Leonard their envelopes. Roscoe, the headwaiter was also included in the distribution. Each was most grateful and thanked us sincerely. As this was to be our last dinner on board, we were a bit melancholy throughout the meal. After enjoying the cuisine, and lingering for a while, we bid the dining room staff adieu. Strolling about the various decks, we took one last look at the beautiful sculptures and paintings that were ever present on the ship. It was time to go back to the room and finish packing. If you want RCI to take your luggage off the ship, you must have the bags outside your stateroom by 11pm on the night before you disembark. I learned by reading cruise reviews that it is wise for you to carry all your necessities such as medicine, a change of clothes, etc. on board in a separate bag.

We will wake up early tomorrow as we arrive in port by 6am. We disembark at approximately 8am.

Day Eight – Sunday, January 26, 2003 – San Pedro

We arrived in San Pedro at 5:30am…tying up at the pier a little before 6am. We are not allowed off the ship until around 8am. Our SeaPass statement was left at our door. Upon reviewing, all charges were accurate. If you have a disputed charge, proceed to the Purser’s Desk for resolution. Upon returning from breakfast, we finished packing our overnight case and garment bag. A little before 8am, we headed off to the Some Enchanted Evening Lounge to await our call to disembark. Those individuals who have an early flight to catch leave first. Everyone else is assigned a color that corresponds with the deck his or her stateroom occupied. We were assigned the color ”blue.” I think we were the third group off the ship. As fast as we went on board seven days ago, today we got off just as quickly. The wait in Customs was brief. We then went down the escalator, found our luggage, had it taken to the front of the Cruise Center and telephoned the Holiday Inn. Jim and his wife arrived a few moments later. We shared experiences and thanked them again for answering all of our questions about cruising. Moments later the Holiday Inn van arrived to pick the four of us up and transport us back to the hotel. We spent the night at the Holiday Inn and drove back to Las Vegas the next morning.

Summary

The food was excellent, the staff highly professional and friendly, other passengers were sociable and the entire experience…well, what a wonderful adventure! My wife and I can hardly wait to cruise again. With the exception of a few “barnacles”, Vision of the Seas represents Royal Caribbean International in an exemplary manner.

Doug and Judy DuCharme
Las Vegas, NV

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