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H. Michael Ball

Age: 53

Occupation:Federal

Number of Cruises: 6

Cruise Line: Royal Caribbean

Ship: Vision of the Seas

Sailing Date: May 23rd, 2004

Itinerary: Pacific Coastal - Repositioning to Alaska


Prologue:

This review will cover many aspects of The Vision and serve as a reference for the Alaskan cruising crowd of spring/summer '04.

There were three of us on this voyage: my wife Pat, yours truly - along with a friend of many years named John, (a first time cruiser.) We booked an inside cabin for John, right across from our stateroom. In this way he could compare an inside to a cabin with veranda.

Getting There:

Sea/Air with RCI was a breeze. Direct United flight from PDX to LAX.
Greyhound Land was used by
RCI for airport to pier transfer.

Embarkation:

This was the smoothest boarding we have ever had. Passengers were arriving throughout the afternoon so there was simply no wait at the pier. We were processed and onboard in fifteen minutes! Please remember: Canada accepts birth certificates in lieu of a passport but it must be a certified copy. John said he had a certificate, which turned out to be a hospital record. We caught this in plenty of time and he was able to obtain a CERTIFIED copy from Ohio. You cannot get on the ship without it or a passport.

Staterooms:

Ours - Cat D1, deck seven, starboard and aft. 195 sq. ft. with a 41 sq. ft. veranda. Just fine for five days at sea. John's - M class inside appx. 160 sq. ft. Perfect if your friends are across the hall and sharing the balcony!

Around the Ship:
Schooner Bar - The favorite spot for my wife and I. Deck Six - mid ship, starboard. We sat for hours sipping the drink of the day or specially made coffees and watching the ocean go by through floor to ceiling windows.

Ship Shape Fitness Center:

Good assortment of exercise equipment. I work out with cable weights which they had plenty of and managed to tear myself up pretty good. Lacking squat and leg press stations - mainly upper body weights. Plenty of treadmills and steppers.

Solarium Pool:

Similar to the AquaSpa on M Class Celebrity ships with a few differences - it is, perhaps, half the size of AquaSpa and instead of serving healthy, light foods from a cafe, there is a bar forward and a hamburger/hot dog stand aft.

Windjammer Restaurant:

Standard, run of the mill buffet with limited changes of menu from day to day. The offerings were satisfactory.

Ports of Call:


San Francisco: Shopping in Sausalito and touring Alcatraz.

I was determined to awaken early and photograph our passing under The Golden Gate. I did not, however, want to wake my wife. I set that strange and unexplainable inner alarm to rouse me at 5:30am. It worked poorly and I sprang to the balcony every hour on the hour from three o'clock on. The pilot boat finally came alongside. In lieu of a flashlight I used the screen on my cell phone to quietly maneuver and prepare. Finally dressed and with camera in hand, I made my way top deck and forward. I thought I would be there alone but found myself with over one hundred others who were there for the same experience. Here came The Golden Gate.... closer and closer... so many cameras clicking and videos running. As we passed directly under the center span our ship let out with three long horn blasts. Knees buckled as we stood less than fifty feet from that enormous sound.

Acapulco is the gem of Mexico and San Francisco is surely the most beautiful port of the US West.

Approaching the city in that early morning light was an aesthetic moment in time. We docked at Fisherman’s Wharf.

Our shore excursions took us across The Golden Gate to Sausalito. It was before 10:00am and the shops were not yet open. Our tour guide said we had to leave at 10:10am.... ten minutes... to do what??? I later filed a complaint with the shore excursion desk regarding this limit of time. We were all refunded half the excursion price. The next activity was touring Alcatraz. The boats to the island dock two blocks away from our pier. 'The Rock' was a great tour and though crowded with children on school outings, it was all we hoped for. I compare it to a cattle yard, housing humans who were treated in a most sub standard way. Good to show this sort of thing to children - what can happen if they are 'naughty'.

Victoria, B.C. Touring Craigdarroch Castle and English Tea at The Empress Hotel.

Wonderful city tour on a British style red, double-decker. We had a wonderful and exceptionally talented guide/driver. He was a veritable database mixed with charm, humor and a voice good enough for radio. We visited Craigdarroch Castle which is more of a four-story mansion - a 23,000 sq. ft. museum with copious amounts of woodwork.

Next was a drive to the eastern suburb of Victoria - Oak Bay - established at the turn of the century by wealthy Victoria residents of British descent who wanted to keep their distance from the tidal mud flat that was then the Inner Harbour. The homes were of mansion stature and spoke of true opulence.

Next stop was The Empress Hotel in beautiful downtown Victoria. I wish we could have toured more of the grounds but it was in for tea augmented with finger sandwiches and desserts, and out in 30 minutes. Plenty to do and see in this city - a real joy to visit.

Vancouver, B.C.

This cruise showed me how patient and polite people the Canadian people can be. It became a harrowing disembarkation and the airport needed all the patient and polite souls that it could muster. There were three ships in port to end/start a cruise, The Vision, The Infinity, (coming in from Hawaii,) and the Ryndam. It didn't occur to me that most of the 5,000 of us were going to converge on the airport... all at once. I counted seven check points prior to gate.... the lines were akin to Disneyland with the switchbacks and impatient Americans WANTING to get home.

I think I'll pick Ensenada for my next entry port. Yes, it was that bad... I do not want to see that airport again for many, many years.

Alaskan Preparation:

Make sure to bring layered clothing - heavy long sleeved shirts, more slacks than shorts, sweaters, windbreakers and umbrellas. Bring one or two extra umbrellas to give out to poor 'little old ladies' who are shivering above deck in the rain. Never anticipate fair weather in this region - Northern Pacific storms can roll in at any time of year. But do bring your swimsuit for the solarium is covered with a retractable 'crystal canopy'.

The crew loved my two-dollar bills. I tell them they are magic and something very good will happen to them on this cruise.

Bring a good pair of binoculars... lots to see in these Alaskan waters.

Anticipate massive crowds at all the ports. No, I've never been to Alaska but I do view web cams and where I can see three ships, it may be as many as 6,000 tourists ! ! ! In most of the ports for most of the summer there will be minimum of three ships at dock or anchor.

Vision End:

Unless one takes extensive notes during a cruise, it is hard to chronologically recall all the events. Photos help but I have found all our voyages are comparable to a culinary dish - a blend of activities, emotions, thoughts and experiences, which culminate in a final presentation - to be savored throughout the years.

Our Vision repositioning, (like all our cruises,) was positive and well worth the investment. The ship shows a bit of wear but was clean. The crew was friendly, well trained and attentive. The dining was good to excellent. The evening shows were professional and pleasing. Everyone sailing to Alaska this year - you can anticipate this with excitement!

I write this on our final full day of the voyage. It has been a short five-day jaunt but I feel prepared to re enter my workplace and mundane day-to-day existence with renewed vigor and a relaxed state of mind. The end of every cruise brings a new beginning to my life - filled with hope and happiness. Thank you Vision and thank you RCI for a job well done.

Comments and questions: hmb01@comcast.net

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